David and Judy Pierce, Founders
David and Judy Pierce of Silverthorne, Colorado, created Friends Along the Road after the death of Lilli, their only child and best friend. With Lilli gone, Dave and Judy no longer wanted to live. Nevertheless, they managed to hang on. In May of 2000 they quit their jobs and embarked on a two-year journey through the back roads of the U.S. and Canada to see if they could find reasons to keep living. After visiting with family members, meeting many friends old and new, and doing much soul-searching, Dave and Judy came to realize that they had learned a few things about grief. Knowing that everybody dies, and that all us suffer the loss of loved ones, the couple finally found something worth living for: helping others in deep grief. The story of their journey is chronicled in David's book, "Looking for Lilli: Living With the Death of Our Only Child" (click here for condensed version).
In 2002, Dave and Judy embraced the philosophy of Sanctuary and Caring Support. Finding that there are many misconceptions about grieving, they came to understand that grief is an entirely personal experience, and that no one has the right to suggest how another ought to experience it. However, they were encouraged by wonderful professional counseling organizations and healing networks that adhere to the ideas of safety, comfort, and unconditional positive regard. Dave and Judy realized that sometimes, the best thing one can do for a person in grief is to offer safe and comfortable places FAR Sanctuaries for Those in Grief. That's why they created Friends Along the Road: to make such places available, to be able to recommend similar places created by others, and to teach the art of Sanctuary Anywhere for Those in Grief.
Jan Fafard Burnsed
Jan Fafard Burnsed earned her degree in Public Accounting from Delta School of Business in 1985. Since that time she has been employed as an accountant by private firms and individuals. She minored in computers and has taught, repaired and written manuals for several computer programs. Jan also worked at a newspaper, giving her the ability to do all jobs related to a newspaper's output. She currently lives in Louisiana, taking care of her husband, who is terminally ill with ALS.
In 1995, Jan lost a brother and experienced firsthand the grief caused by the death of a loved one. Jan came to Friends Along the Road by way of Lilli, the daughter of David and Judy Pierce, founders of Friends Along the Road. She was Lilli's babysitter and thought of Lilli as one of her own children. Lilli's death in 1999 hurt Jan very much.
After meeting David, Judy and Lilli in 1987, she has claimed them as “Chosen Family.” Jan likes to say, “Your family is not always the one you are born to, but those who love you the most.”
Jan has volunteered her time with FAR for many years, consoling and comforting those who are in pain and do not know where to turn. She also enjoys reading and has an abiding interest in life on "the other side."
J. Christopher Graham, Ph.D
Dr. J. Christopher Graham was awarded his doctoral degree in Social Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin and subsequently held a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (for studying chronic neglect of children). He is a member of Sigma Xi (the scientific research society), The Association for Psychological Science, The Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and The American Statistical Association. As a statistician, consultant, and member of the Child Welfare Research Group of the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, he conducts applied research in the related fields of family violence, child and adolescent development, systemic crisis intervention, risk assessment and decision making. Among other reports, Dr. Graham is an author of The Texas Child Fatality Study (TDPRS, 1998). He has been a consultant to DePelchin Children's Center, Benedictine Health Resource Center, American Humane Association (Children's Services). His professional contributions have been recognized by his inclusion in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World. As a way of promoting nonjudgmental grief support, he serves on the Board of Directors of Friends Along the Road. Apart from his professional life, he enjoys time with his family, cooking, reading, and walks in the woods or by the sea.
Giulia De Vivo
Giulia De Vivo earned a degree in Foreign Languages from the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy of Salerno University in 1985, and worked for 13 years as an executive secretary for multinational companies. In 1999, in order to devote more time to her family, she became a freelance translator and interpreter. Thanks to her mixed heritage -- Italian, British and Czech -- Giulia excelled in the area of interpersonal communication. The emphasis of her work has always been on helping people understand one another.
Giulia has an inborn desire to research and experience the spiritual side of life. Over a three-year period she worked as a translator in events organized by the Spiritualist National Union in Stansted, UK, as well as in Italy, during which she got to know several hundred bereaved individuals, and developed a specific interest in grief and bereavement support. She has since devoted a substantial part of her free time to researching the subject and comforting the bereaved, irrespective of their cultural or religious backgrounds.
Sydnei Kaplan earned her BA degree in Psychology-Communication-Marketing from the University of Michigan in 1985. She continued on at U of M to get her MBA in 1987. After spending 10 years working in Marketing and Promotions, Sydnei left the corporate world to take on an even bigger challenge - being a mom. Sydnei is married to David Kaplan, they have 2 children and live in Riverwoods, Illinois. She spends a lot of time volunteering in the children's elementary school and helps David with his home-based Education Marketing business. In her free time she practices yoga, spends time with friends, and enjoys cooking and gardening.
Sydnei has been drawn to big questions about life - why we are here and what happens - next since she was a very young child. Like Giulia, Sydnei has a strong desire to learn about and experience the spiritual side of life. This passion was intensified in 2003 when her mom passed away and she tried to make sense of this painful loss. Her searching led her to Dave and Judy and their Lilli Pierce and the Big Trip BBS, where she made precious friends and met others who understood what she was going through. This, in turn, led her to the FAR BBS, where people came to share their stories of loss and grief. Now, as a member of the FAR Board, Sydnei hopes to help Dave and Judy help FAR reach its full potential, and reach many more people.
Barbara Tillman is a National Board Certified teacher and former program administrator for children and young adults with mild-moderate disabilities. Barb received her undergraduate training (BSEd) and master's level (MS/EXC) at The University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University. Throughout her career, Barbara used many service opportunities as learning experiences for her students, and was a Spring/Summer Games Coordinator for Special Olympics-Georgia for many years. She was a Service Learning Coordinator during her tenure in Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta and was named the system's MS Teacher of the Year from a field of 105 school candidates in 1998.
Barbara lost her only child, Rachael Christine, in 2008 quite unexpectedly, and while navigating this loss with Rachael's father and Barb's lifelong friend and partner, John, also said goodbye to him within a span of three short years. It was following John's death that FAR and its members provided her with a new source of comfort and understanding of her profound loss, as well as support for her personal transformation and healing. She has recently retired from public education and is working to help make FAR's vision of permanent sanctuary a reality.
Mica De Ruiter
Mica De Ruiter is a Dutch woman who currently lives in The Netherlands, after having spent the first part of her life in various different countries around the world; a life-style which for her offered a learning-school, in enhancing various usefuland valuable qualities which gave her a broader perspective on life and prepared her for the metaphysical venture she became more actively and consciously involved with later in life.
It is a venture she feels she was meant to take on in this life-time, triggered in 2002 by a personal experience which had enormous impact on her, namely the loss of her husband, who passed away in June of that year.
Ever since she can recall Mica asked herself questions about the meaning of Life and why it operates the way it does.
In 2003, in her search for clarity and insights with regard to life, mortality, and the continuation of consciousness (what happens after we leave this life), Mica was introduced to the Lilli Pierce and the Big Trip BBS, where issues such as these could be discussed and shared in an open and sympathetic way. Her site Existing Beyond, which amongst others concerns itself with consciousness, dreams & out of body experiences and life ‘beyond’ physical death, was created by her a few years later.
In her appreciation for what Friends Along the Road is able to offer others who have also lost someone they love, Mica involves herself with FAR "behind the scenes" through her support with respect to developments within this organisation.
Kyle "Rem" Pulliam is a paranormal fiction writer, amateur musician and FACS (Facial Action Coding System) enthusiast currently residing in Moores Hill, Indiana with his brother William, his friend Emily and her three children. He has resided on both sides of the United States and several places in between, often finding himself traveling for no other reason than to explore the myriad sub- and counter-cultures present in the U.S.
In 1999, Rem met and befriended Lilli Pierce at Cape Coral High School in Cape Coral, Florida and, through her, Dave and Judy Pierce. Helping mutual friends cope with Lilli's passing, as well as attempting to grieve his adoptive mother's suicide less than a year later, inspired Rem to gain a better understanding of people in the hope that he could someday help others who had experienced similar tragedies, or prevent the tragedies from occurring altogether.