Personality: Melanie K. Frank

Spotlight on board chair of the Full Circle Grief Center

9/9/2021, 6 p.m.
During COVID-19, grief has become a greater presence in the lives of many people with the large numbers of people …

During COVID-19, grief has become a greater presence in the lives of many people with the large numbers of people stricken with, hospitalized by or who succumbed to the virus. For Richmonders struggling with this part of life, Melanie K. Frank and the Full Circle Grief Center have been working to be a helping hand.

Ms. Frank has been leading the nonprofit’s board since 2019. It is her second time in the role after first being elected in 2011. But her time with the organization stretches back more than a decade to the organization’s founding in September 2008.

When first approached by founder Allyson Drake about becoming part of Full Circle’s founding board, one of Ms. Frank’s co-workers had just lost his wife. The thought of the impact that death would have on her co-worker and the couple’s children spurred Ms. Frank to join the group. She has served in multiple roles in the years since.

“I was in from the start and have stayed as I have realized the impact losing their mother early in life had on my own family,” Ms. Frank says, noting the importance of having a resource like Full Circle to help grieving families in our community heal.

Now in the second year of her six-year term as president, Ms. Frank seeks to continue Full Circle’s work in providing comprehensive grief counseling in many forms. With referrals bolstered through their many community partners, Full Circle Grief Center provides support to people each year through group and individual programs, ranging from spousal and parental death to pregnancy loss, community recovery and deaths by suicide or opioid overdose.

To meet the needs of those grieving, Full Circle employs a wide range of support strategies, including discussion groups, creative expression like art, music and games, relaxation techniques and more. The support services are free, as “we want our services to be as accessible as possible to any and all who need them,” Ms. Frank says.

“At Full Circle, we believe the most important piece of grief support is listening and holding space, non-judgmentally and compassionately,” Ms. Frank says. “Our biggest priority is for nobody to feel alone in their grief and to help communities learn how to grieve in a more healthy manner.”

Full Circle’s services didn’t stop during COVID-19, Ms. Frank points out. Initially, the nonprofit moved to virtual counseling. However, in-person and virtual options are available and used as statewide regulations and federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines have allowed.

On Sept. 18 and 19, the organization is hosting its 2nd Annual Miles in Memory Virtual Remembrance Run/Walk with Bon Secours Richmond. Participants can run or walk wherever they are in memory of a loved one, with the $25 registration fee and any other donations benefiting Full Circle GriefCenter’s grief support programs for children and families in the Richmond area.

Looking ahead, Ms. Frank says her biggest goal is “striving for happiness and good health for my family,” a fitting goal for one whose work puts her in close proximity to so much trauma and sadness.

Meet a leader in supporting the community in healing from all types of grief and this week’s Personality, Melanie K. Frank:

No. 1 volunteer title: Board chair, Full Circle Grief Center.

Date and place of birth: May 15 in Detroit.

Where I live now: Short Pump, Henrico County.

Education: Mills Godwin High School in Henrico County; bachelor’s in aerospace engineering; University of Virginia; and master’s in engineering, University of Maryland. Occupation: Managing vice president of technology, Capital One.

Family: Husband, Charlie; and daughter, Parker, 17; son, Will, 15; and daughter, Ellie, 12.

When and why Full Circle Grief Center was founded: It was established in September 2008 by Allyson Drake as a comprehensive grief resource center for children, adults and families.

Mission: To provide comprehensive, professional bereavement support to children, adults, families and communities in Central Virginia.

When elected board chair: I was a member of the founding board starting in 2008, elected chair in 2011, moved to the junior board in 2014, moved back to the board and elected board chair again in 2019.

Why I accepted position: I have been committed to Full Circle and its mission since it was founded in 2008 and have been a part of the board or junior board and active program volunteer the entire time. When Allyson first approached me about joining the board, I had heard that day about a co-worker who lost his wife suddenly. They had two young daughters, and I was trying to imagine what he would do and how they would all be. That night, Allyson told me about her plans to start Full Circle, and I got chills. I was in from the start and have stayed as I have realized the impact losing their mother early in life had on my own family and how important having a resource like Full Circle is to helping grieving families in our community heal.

Length of term: First term, 6 years; currently in year 2 of second term.

Grief is: Hard and messy.

Full Circle Grief Center helps find meaning of loss by: Helping individuals integrate the loss into their lives and discover ways to honor their loved one as they move forward in their “new normal.”

Difference between bereavement and grief: Grief is reaction to a loss, encompassing thoughts and feelings, as well as physical, behavioral and spiritual resources. Bereavement is state of loss when someone close to you has died.

Children and grief: Unresolved grief, especially in children and youths, can become a serious issue that prolongs suffering and even impairs regular daily functions at school and home. Our Hands on Healing, or HOH, family group helps families work through grief together. Our school groups help students access grief support that they may not otherwise get. And our individual counseling practice is also open to grieving children. More information is available about HOH online at https://fullcirclegc.org/hands-on-healing-family-group/ and about individual counseling at https://fullcirclegc.org/individual-counseling-2/.

Spouses and grief: All of Full Circle’s programs and groups help support spouses experiencing loss. In a group setting, spouses are able to connect with others experiencing a similar loss. In our individual counseling practice, our therapists tailor the approach specifically to each client in that one-to-one relationship.

Parents and grief: We serve grieving parents in every single Full Circle group and program. Their challenges are all different — ranging from grieving the death of an adult child to parenting young children while grieving the loss of another — and each program takes into consideration the best way to support those parents depending on their situation. In Hands on Healing, parents and their children have the opportunity to attend group together.

Suicide and grief and overdose and grief: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released reports citing record high numbers of suicide and overdose deaths in 2020. At Full Circle, our Suicide Loss Group and Overdose Loss Group operate on a waitlist all the time, and pages on our website related to those topics have seen exponential traffic growth in 2020 and 2021. You can learn more about our Suicide Loss Group online at https://fullcirclegc.org/suicide-loss-group/. You can learn more about our Overdose Loss Group online at https://fullcirclegc.org/overdose-loss-group/.

Pregnancy loss and grief: There are few services in our area to support parents who are dealing with the loss of a baby. Our Perinatal Loss Group supports parents grieving the death of an infant or stillborn baby. We also offer a Pregnancy After Loss Group, as well as a Parenting After a Perinatal Loss Group. You can learn more online at https://fullcirclegc.org/perinatal-loss-group/.

Community grief: Our community is living in a state of community and national grief currently. We can support communities, organizations, neighborhoods and companies that are grieving the death of someone in their organization. To learn more about these services, please email allyson@fullcirclegc.org.

Racial equity and grief: Everyone grieves at some point. It’s one of the most universal experiences in our world. But everyone grieves in different ways based on a variety of factors, including life experiences, family of origin beliefs around death, religious beliefs, support system and depth of relationship with the person who has died. We are often asked about demographics, and while there are certainly trends, that information often changes because grief does not discriminate. Grief doesn’t “choose” based on income, age, sexuality, religion, race, etc. It’s one reason our groups are offered at no cost. We want our services to be as accessible as possible to any and all who need them.

How we help our city heal as homicide rates increase: We need to provide an outlet for family members and friends who have lost a loved one to homicide. Those grieving these losses need to have a place to talk to others who understand and can relate to the intricacies and specific challenges of a homicide death. Full Circle partners with Virginia Victim Assistance Network to offer these groups in our area. For more information, visit https:// vanetwork.org/homicide-survivor-support-groups/.

Strategies we use to help the grieving process: We use a variety of strategies to support those who are grieving a loss — discussion, various forms of creative expression (such as art, music, painting, games, drama, and play), relaxation/meditation/mindfulness techniques, companioning and listening. At Full Circle, we believe the most important piece of grief support is listening and holding space, non-judgmentally and compassionately.

How Full Circle Grief Center individualizes services: At Full Circle, each person who contacts us, either via phone or email, talks to a licensed mental health professional from the start. These professionals work in partnership with the clients to understand their individual goals, needs and challenges. We make recommendations for services based on the client, not working to fit them into our pre-defined programs.

Full Circle Grief Center and COVID-19: Full Circle has remained operational with no break in service since the beginning of the pandemic. When the initial quarantine timeframe was instituted, the organization moved to a completely virtual format for the first time ever. During the course of the last year and a half, Full Circle has offered virtual and in-person options for groups and individual counseling as statewide regulations and COVID-19 trends have allowed.

No. 1 goal or project of Full Circle Grief Center: Our biggest priority is for nobody to feel alone in their grief and to help communities learn how to grieve in a healthy manner.

Full Circle Grief Center partners with: Full Circle collaborates with a wide variety of organizations in the Greater Richmond area. We have strong referral partnerships with many organizations, including but not limited to: Communities In Schools, National Association for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness, ChildSavers, McShin Foundation and local community service boards, funeral homes, hospitals, hospices, schools and OBGYNs. We also partner closely with local public schools, where we offer as-needed grief support groups onsite for students who have experienced traumatic loss.

Ways to assist Full Circle Grief Center:

• Engage with us on Facebook and Instagram

• Volunteer https://fullcirclegc.org/volunteer/

• Participate in an upcoming event https://fullcirclegc.org/miles-in-memory/

• Purchase an item from our Amazon Wish List https://fullcirclegc.org/amazon-wish-list/

• Make a donation https://fullcirclegc.org/donations-support/

Upcoming Full Circle Grief Center events: Our 2nd Annual Miles in Memory Virtual Remembrance Walk/Run, presented by Bon Secours, is coming up! https://fullcirclegc.org/miles-in-memory/ Participants can join us virtually from anywhere the weekend of Sept. 18-19 and walk or run in memory of a loved one. All proceeds and donations will fund our ongoing grief support groups. We also will be hosting a Fall Fest in November at Hardywood with more details to come.

How to access Full Circle Grief Center’s services: Visit the Full Circle Grief Center website at https://fullcirclegc.org/. There, you can find information about how to register for groups, inquire about individual counseling services, or sign up to attend an event. To stay in the loop about programs, services and events, you can also follow Full Circle on Facebook and Instagram.

How I start the day: I start most every day with some form of exercise. This helps my mental health as much as my physical health and wakes me up, getting me ready to attack the day. I am generally a “find the silver lining” person, using that to tackle anything that might be challenging me at the time.

A perfect day for me is: Sleeping in, getting a workout, plenty of time outside (preferably on the water or in the mountains ... maybe at a U.Va. sporting event), good food and great time with family.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Maybe that I love to sing and dance (and not well), usually in my kitchen or my car and much to the embarrassment of my children.

Quote that inspires me: “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.” – Elizabeth Edwards.

My friends describe me as: Smart and funny seem to be the general themes.

What I am learning about myself during the pandemic: I like working from home way more than I would have expected. I love getting time with my kids during the day that I wouldn’t have if I was in the office. I need to keep the routine to stay sane: Up, workout, shower, makeup, dress for work (at least on top).

At the top of my “to-do” list: Organize my closet! It keeps getting pushed down the list by back-to-school tasks, work items, etc.

Best late-night snack: Fresh popcorn with plenty of butter.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: I can only pick one? Work hard, be financially responsible, be kind and put family first. Family is way bigger than those you are related to by blood.

Person who influenced me the most: My grandfather.

Book that influenced me the most: “Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do” by Claude M. Steele.

What I’m reading now: “Ask Again, Yes” by Mary Beth Keane and “Brag Better: Master the Art of Fearless Self-Promotion” by Meredith Fineman.

Next goal: Honestly, my biggest goal is striving for happiness and good health for my family. And when it comes to Full Circle, as board chair, I want to ensure that this valuable service will be available to our community for generations to come.