Amy Liebman Rapp is no stranger to loss. “As a teen, I saw firsthand how loss affects families—how the loss of one person can cause a whole family to fall apart.”
In her early 40s, her husband Dr. Sidney Rapp died after suffering through years of illness. Her son Alex was eight years old. “My husband and I had spent several years talking about what he hoped for our son. When he died, I had his voice in my head,” she says. “What I didn’t have was a support network who could be present for us as we grieved, and who could help me support my son.”
Alex was entering the third grade at the time. “That entire year, he spaced out in school. The teachers didn’t have the tools to handle it; they had never been with a grieving child before,” she says. “My son was distracted, and instead of recognizing it as grief and supporting him, they told me he had an attention deficit disorder.”
“I used my own personal connection to this issue as an opportunity to help other people, so that they wouldn’t have to go through what we did.”
As a young widow, Liebman Rapp was driven to understand her own grieving process and how she could help her son. She returned to graduate school to become a grief counselor, and subsequently entered into a postgraduate Thanatology (death, dying, and bereavement) program, while simultaneously facilitating adult, children, and teen bereavement groups. In doing so, she recognized there was an unmet need across schools to help children and teens facing loss.
“I saw a huge hole in the education system that needed to be addressed. At the time, I was simply trying to meet my own needs. Yet I used my own personal connection to this issue as an opportunity to help other people, so that they wouldn’t have to go through what we did.”
With her extensive business background, Liebman Rapp in 2000 founded The Sanctuary – National Grief Support Network, which provides grief counseling, bereavement education, and outreach services for children and teens as well as adults, families, communities, and businesses that have experienced loss. She soon became a nationally recognized authority on grieving children, teens, and families.
After the September 11 tragedy, she served as on-site grief counselor and crisis responder with the Aon Corporation and the American Red Cross. It was during this time she received a call from Whitney Siderman Michaels and her husband Evan. Siderman Michaels was a bond trader at the World Trade Center-based Cantor Fitzgerald, a corporation that suffered the loss of 658 employees in the tragedy. After attending numerous funerals and witnessing many bereaved children, the couple had started a foundation to provide grief support for the surviving children of 9/11—and they wanted Liebman Rapp to help them.
“If there’s one thing I share with funders, it’s this: Become a part of the community you are interested in.”
Liebman Rapp became the granting director and strategist of this foundation, A Little Hope, Inc. With the money raised by Whitney and Evan Michaels and the board of directors, she created the first national charitable foundation dedicated to advancing the growth of children’s grief support and the development of bereavement centers, camps, and school programs in the United States. Under her leadership, the foundation expanded its mission beyond 9/11 children, and partnered with 94 organizations in 39 states, touching the lives of more than 250,000 children.
Most important to Liebman Rapp is staying personally connected to the community she serves. “If there’s one thing I share with funders, it’s this: Become a part of the community you are interested in. When you figure out the area in which you want to serve, go there. Learn about it. Even before you write the first check. Go to conferences. Be a part of it. That’s a way to feel connected to the work.”
In early 2016, she identified yet another gap in service and launched the public charity Alex Cares for Grieving Youth, Inc., named after her son Alex. This organization provides grief services for marginalized youth in communities that are committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity.
“When you have a personal connection to an issue, to the people, to the community, you can make and see the impact of what you do,” she says. “These days, everyone wants metrics—proof that the grant or the initiative worked. I have found that when you are involved with the community you serve, and you physically see what your dollars are doing, you have all the answers you need.”