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Ventura County Based Non-Profit Helping People Cope With Deaths Of Significant Others

Jem Sahagun
Soaring Sprits provides information and support for people who have lost their significant others. The non-profit group based in Simi Valley helps people around the world.

Soaring Spirits founder being honored with CNN Hero award.

Lynn Lerner is trying to endure the unendurable. COVID-19 took her husband Larry. Lerner admits most days are rough.

"Not good," said Lerner. "But, I can talk about it now and not cry."

She says she and her husband were in good health when the coronavirus hit them in March of 2020. They were both taken to a hospital. She was there for three days. Her husband died there nine days later.

She's had to deal with the lingering effects of COVID-19, and the stress of losing her husband.

But, Lerner discovered Soaring Spirits, a Ventura County based non-profit focused on helping those who are widowed.

Soaring Spirits Founder and CEO Michele Neff Hernandez got the idea for the organization when she was struggling to cope with tragedy in her family.

Her husband Philip died in a car accident five years after they were married. As she struggled to cope with the loss, she saw the value of people who had suffered similar losses connecting with each other, because they could understand the issue, and emotions they all faced.

Soaring Spirits provides basic information to help newly widowed people deal with the basic issues they are facing, like dealing with bills, bank accounts, health insurance and life insurance.

But, programs providing moral support are even more critical. One of the flagship programs is Camp Widow, one-day or weekend events where people can not only find out about resources, but can also meet others facing the same situation.

Hernandez says COVID-19 has made what Soaring Spirits does even more critical, because people have been more isolated because of the coronavirus.

She says there are some people who have lost their significant others to the virus, or through other causes, but because of the pandemic are unable to have family and friends visit to provide support.

In many cases, conventional memorial services were out of the question. And, some people who were in the recovery process already suffered setbacks because they found themselves suddenly cut off socially because of safety concerns.

With many becoming accustomed to using Zoom, it’s led to people from around the world tapping into the Simi Valley based non-profit’s programs.

Soaring Spirits has three full-time and two part time staff members. Despite the important services it provides, the non-profit hasn’t been able to get much support from foundations. It relies on donations from individuals.

Michele Neff Hernandez is being honored as a CNN Hero this weekend and hopes the national exposure from the cable news network will inspire people to help.

Terry Marvin
Soaring Spirits founder Michele Neff Hernandez being interviewed by CNN for her CNN Heroes honors.

What does Hernandez think her late husband Phillip would think of “oaring Spirits?

"He was a private person, and might be a surprised to see what I'm doing," said Hernandez. "But I'm sure he would support it."

Lerner, who lost her husband to COVID-19, says the organization has helped her start to get her life back on track.

She says it's still hard, but she doesn't cry as much. She says the support groups are helping her cope with the pain, and she's not ready to leave them yet.

Information on Soaring Spirits.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.