| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter


Karen Gray Sheffield


Open Arms

4777 E. Outer Drive
Suite 500
Detroit, Michigan 48234
Karen Gray Sheffield oversees multiple St. John Providence programs that benefit children, including Open Arms, which provides grief therapy for southeast Michigan children. She sees progress in an increased awareness around grief issues, with more people recognizing when children need grief support.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
St. John Providence Community Health Director Karen Gray Sheffield: A leader not only has to have vision, but must help others buy into that vision. A leader must lead people toward achieving their own success, outcomes, and goals. A good leader knows how to push forward to accomplish these outcomes, even if they are acting alone.
I wish I could say we're reducing the violence that is a cause of grieving, but unfortunately that's not the case.

What is your dream for kids?
My dream is for every child to have a healthy childhood; that could mean other types of intervention taking place, whatever it takes so that they have every opportunity available. I would wish for them not to be tainted by things or events from their past; that they could overcome these circumstances and do or be anything.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
We need a shared vision, shared resources, and unity around the needs of our community. Sometimes we try to make change in small silos; if we shared ideas, we could have a much greater collective impact. There is a Michigan coalition for grieving children that meets quarterly, so that is going to help us make better progress and decisions.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I wish I could say we’re reducing the violence that is a cause of grieving, but unfortunately that’s not the case. However, I do
Some of the children we've assisted have gone on to college, done public speaking, and written books about their experiences.
see progress in that more people are becoming aware of and recognizing the needs of children with regards to grief support; we’re getting multiple referrals from people in schools and other organizations, who are keeping their eyes and ears open to identify who might need help. We also see the individual progress people make in our outcomes: change in affect, attitudes and behaviors, and kids no longer acting out as a direct result of the program.
What are you most proud of?
It’s not so much about what I’m personally proud of, but I’m proud on behalf of what people in our program have accomplished. Some of the children we’ve assisted have gone on to college, done public speaking, and written books about their experiences. One young man wrote a children’s book to help kids deal with their grief. I’m also proud of the time and effort put in by our many volunteers.
In speaking with younger people who are interested in careers in the social sector, what advice would you give?
I would tell them that it’s a job of passion and compassion. You won’t get wealthy financially, but you will get great rewards for the work that you do. It doesn’t hurt to do volunteer work to see if you’re suited for it; it’s not something everyone is cut out for. You certainly have to have a strong spirit within yourself, and not let things in life discourage you. After working in this field for over 20 years, I’ve learned not to take my work home with me. I didn’t start out with the intention of doing grief work, but I’ve become attached to it, and it’s incredibly satisfying.
Signup for Email Alerts

Program Profile

  • Open Arms
    Finding strength through grief therapy


  • St. John Providence Community Health
    Open Arms provides support and counseling to children and adults experiencing grief and trauma. Serving Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, the program educates the community about grief and trauma and its long-term impact and provides supportive ...


Stuart Ray, Mindy Ysasi, Mike Kerkorian, Ellen Carpenter from Grand Rapids' Nonprofits

Jumping Ship: Former Corporate Leaders Tell All

End Bullying, Save Lives

Putting the Brakes on Bullying


Transforming the Lives of First-Time Moms

View All People


Family Health Center of Battle Creek - list

Maternal Infant & Child Health Program

Addressing infant and child health issues

Community Action Against Asthma

Air Filter and Air Conditioner Intervention Study

Helping asthmatic children breathe easier

Advocacy Services for Kids list

Family Support Partners

Uniting families with similar experiences
View All Programs

Bright Ideas


Healthy Futures for Kids

The Grand Rapids African American Health Institute addresses disparate health outcomes by acting as a resource for health education, research, and advocacy.

Lead Technician Emily Quinn connects Deborah Johnson Wood to the computer for biofeedback

Wrestling with ADHD

Can brain training help wean kids with ADHD off medication? A Grand Rapids psychologist is seeing hopeful results.


Mentoring For Children From Migrant Families

Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance's Migrant Mentoring program offers community advocates and coaches an opportunity to connect with school-aged migrant children.
View All Bright Ideas

Directly Related Content