EMS is proud to support our Cleveland community in a variety of ways. Over the years we’ve collectively donated our time and talents, our services and knowledge, toys, supplies, food, and have sponsored outstanding organizations through monetary contributions. One of these outstanding organizations that EMS has sponsored for many years is Cornerstone of Hope.
It only takes one visit to the facility in Independence to witness the unique passion of Cornerstone of Hope. Even though it is located on a busy street, the entire Cornerstone campus had a calm, peaceful, safe atmosphere that almost transports you to a quiet village from a storybook. In the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, there were people coming in for sessions, leaving with resources and brochures, and calling the front desk for information on services. The need for this organization is incredible. Even CEO and Founder Mark Tripodi observed, “When we founded Cornerstone we knew there was a need, but we even underestimated the need for this type of program”.
During our visit, we sat down with Mark and asked him some questions about the organization. He shared with us the remarkable story of his family’s journey and how he and his wife, Christi, founded Hope through heartbreak.
The Tripodi’s History of Seeking and Inspiring Hope
This story of incredible hope begins with a family’s tragic loss. In early summer of the year 2000, Mark and Christi Tripodi’s lives changed forever when their three year old son, Bobby, died suddenly from bacterial meningitis. After this unexpected and heartbreaking loss, the Tripodi family desperately searched for comfort and direction. They sought support for their grief through counseling and other therapy, but the right healing option for their family proved difficult to find. After months of searching for help, the Tripodis were left with expensive counseling bills and few answers for how to cope with their grief. Mark and Christi began to think that bereavement care should be better. It should be more organized, less expensive, and a way to truly offer hope to those who felt hopeless. They felt called to do something more to support people in their community who were also searching for how to move forward after the loss of a loved one.
Mark and Christi started researching and discovered that there were standalone grief centers across the country doing great work to offer comfort and support to grieving individuals. They visited centers in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon. All of these organizations were very open to sharing the dos and don’ts of offering bereavement care with the Tripodis. “We took notes and advice from all of those locations and really decided what is going to make Cornerstone of Hope unique in the Cleveland community”, Mark stated.
Cornerstone of Hope was officially founded in 2003 to serve the greater Cleveland area. The organization started small, with a part-time counselor solely focused on educating and training the professional community. Cornerstone then began to establish partnerships with school guidance counselors, hospital social workers, funeral directors, church leaders, and hospice organizations to offer training on helping people cope with loss. As the organization grew, they started offering support groups for adults coping with loss and recruited art therapists to specialize in grief support for children and teens. “We always had this desire because of our own personal experience to support all ages with a variety of programs”, said Mark. With a lot of prayer, hard work, dedication, and support, the Tripodi’s dream became reality. By late 2004 – early 2005, Cornerstone of Hope was serving all ages.
As Cornerstone of Hope began to expand, they added a variety of programs, support groups, individual counseling options, and memorial events to serve and support adults, children, and families. Support groups, first separated by age, today can often be separated by type of loss. For example, Cornerstone offers support groups for loss due to suicide, murder, drug overdose, and even a group for moms and dads who have experienced the loss of a child due to a miscarriage or stillbirth. “These specific types of loss groups have been very powerful,” said Mark, “Everyone’s journey is unique. But, when you can add commonality to the type of loss, that bond and that experience shared is even more powerful in a group process”. As a value of excellence Cornerstone upholds, all of their services and programs are professionally-led by licensed clinicians, social workers, or art therapists.
Through the years, Cornerstone has added two other branches in Ohio. A Columbus location opened in 2011 and a Lima location in 2014. They have also grown to about 30 total staff members across all three locations.
When Mark and Christi founded Cornerstone, they never wanted a lack of finances to prevent a grieving person from accessing support. Mark told us, “When we sought counseling back in 2000, private counseling was $120 an hour – cash. And that was 20 years ago. So, it’s not uncommon to pay $100, $150, even close to $200 for counseling. We knew when we started Cornerstone that we never want lack of finances to be a barrier to services”.
Even as the organization has expanded, counseling costs and registration fees have remained low. In fact, only 10% of Cornerstone’s budget is gained through their fee for services. In regards to these fees, Mark stated, “Although we do charge for counseling, it’s just $50 per session. If you don’t have the ability to pay that, we have a compassionate care fund that will help reduce the cost and in some cases it is offered at $0. Our support groups are professionally-led and they meet once a week for, depending on the type of group, between 8 – 10 weeks, and there’s just a small registration fee. It’s more of a commitment fee than it is to bring income”.
To fund the other 90% of the operational budget, Cornerstone relies on the generosity of the community and those who support the organization. They hold multiple fundraisers annually which include golf outings, a tasting event, a gala, and The Life Ball, a masquerade-themed ball coming up this year on October 19th. Donors are also able to make a contribution directly through the Cornerstone of Hope website.
The Future of Cornerstone of Hope
When we asked Mark about his plans for the future of the organization he stated, “We do have a bold vision of expanding. We’re looking to become more of a regional, if not national training center because when we sought support early on in our history, other centers opened their doors to us and gave us advice. We’d like to be that type of resource to other nonprofit startups that want to start a bereavement group in their community, to help them get up and running”.
Mark also anticipates that Cornerstone will start providing more opportunities for grieving men. Of the people Cornerstone serves, grieving men ages 25 and up is the lowest population. “We want to have special programming to be able to have a fellowship of grieving men that have lost a spouse or lost a child to come together and support one another”, said Mark. The organization also plans to add specific groups for grandparents who may be grieving the loss of their child or grandchild, along with more opportunities for education and awareness regarding specific types of loss, especially those caused by suicide or overdose.
While there is no “typical day” for Cornerstone of Hope, Mark noted that, “Our whole vision is to create a world where no grieving person journeys alone. We’re confident in our programs and confident in our staff. We just have to continue with a sense of compassion, professionalism, and keep doing what we’re doing really well”.
Thanks and Advice for EMS
Before concluding our interview, Mark asked to share a word of thanks with EMS. “You guys have been beyond generous to our ministry both from a company point of view, and a lot of your staff members from a personal point of view”, he said. He also asked that we share these words with all EMS employees, “Don’t be scared to talk to somebody that’s recently lost a loved one. It’s been my experience that they want you to acknowledge the death of their loved one. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, a parent, maybe even a grandparent. They want an employee to come up and be genuine and humble and just say, ‘I am so sorry. I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m praying for you and I’m thinking about you. How are you doing today?’ Drop a card in the mail or bring a meal to work and just say, ‘I know you’re going through a lot. I hope this will take a little pressure off you when you get home’. Those every day, meaningful touch points that let your coworker know that you’re thinking about them, that you’re praying for them, and that you’re willing to help I think is powerful”.
EMS proudly sponsors Cornerstone of Hope because they serve the community with humility, professionalism, kindness, and empathy. We all seek comfort and a safe space during dark times in life, and Cornerstone is that space for many people. EMS is grateful to Mark and Christi for their leadership of this organization and looks forward to continuing in support for years to come.