Extraordinary Executive Director winner at our 2020 Light a Fire Awards: Brennan Wood

“The Dougy Center saved my life.” Brennan Wood doesn’t mince words when she talks about the tremendous impact this Portland center for grieving children has had on her.

After her mother died in 1987, Wood attended the Dougy Center’s teen grief support for 18 months before becoming one of their teen speakers, then a volunteer facilitator. Life took her to Montana, but 16 years ago she moved back to Portland and reconnected with the organization, working her way up the ranks until she was selected as executive director in 2015, when Donna Schuurman stepped down after 24 years in the role.

Those were big shoes to fill, but under Wood’s leadership, the Dougy Center received a $1 million grant to fund new programs, increased its direct services rate by 25 percent in 2018–2019, and broadened the scope of its equity and inclusion mission to make sure all members of the community can access their services. Wood says there’s still work to be done, but that with her staff and the Dougy Center volunteer team, she knows they’ll get there. 

Her staff have equal faith in her. “Her personal experience ensures that she centers the needs of grieving families in every aspect of her expanding vision,” says Jana DeCristofaro, the Dougy Center’s community response program coordinator. “The example she sets encourages us all to level up.”

“I think that as a culture, as a society, we want so badly to take away people’s pain, and we want them to just get over it,” says Wood. “This process of grieving the death of somebody is natural and normal and healthy, and it doesn’t have to be something you try to keep separate from who you are.”

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