Gwen Peterson, Hope for Widows

Gwen Peterson, co-founder of nonprofit Hope for Widows, at a friend's home in La Crescenta on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Peterson, a Utah resident who grew up in La Crescenta is looking to raise funds for "widow kits" with vital information to help women grieving over the loss of their husbands. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / July 16, 2014)

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Since 2011, Hope for Widows has been a national support system for women grappling with the loss of a spouse. Co-founder Gwen Linnemeyer-Peterson, a 1992 graduate of Crescenta Valley High School, said that after three years, the organization is taking the next step to expand its reach to recent widows as well as women who lost their spouses decades ago.

The organization is currently raising funds to create “widow packets,” which will consist of a welcome letter from Hope for Widows, a pen and handmade journal with space for the widow to share her own feelings.

The group is seeking $25,000 to kick-start the project.

“We want to offer more than just a group on Facebook,” she said. “These widows need support, and we want to give them what they need.”

In 2010, the U.S. Census reported that out of 96.6 million unmarried Americans 18 years old and older, 15% were widows or widowers, but most were widows. Peterson is not a widow, but co-founder Michelle Eborn, Peterson’s best friend and inspiration for the organization, is.

Peterson cared for Eborn for roughly six months in 2006. Eborn’s husband, Chris, died after complications with a heart arrhythmia suffered during the St. George Triathlon in Utah. Michelle Eborn was left with four children and another one on the way.

Peterson said she helped keep Michelle Eborn afloat in many ways, but couldn’t help as much emotionally. Then, two strangers — widows themselves — attended Chris Eborn’s viewing. The gesture touched both friends.

After forming the organization, Peterson learned that more than 80% of its members contemplated suicide within the first year of losing their spouse.

“Life is about paying it forward,” Peterson said of creating Hope for Widows. “We want other widows to have what Michelle had.”

And that need has reached roughly 2,000 widows. The organization is nondenominational, helping women from all religious backgrounds and regardless of sexual orientation. The organization receives up to 50 requests each day from people looking for ways to help grieving women who are friends or widows seeking help from those who understand their plight.

Recently, a woman contacted the organization as she sat beside her husband at a hospice. He was dying of cancer. Once she was added to Hope’s Facebook group, a post seeking comfort for the woman garnered more than 100 posts from fellow widows. The caregivers gave her husband two days to live. Her husband died two days later.

“It was amazing to watch these women rally around her in her husband’s last days,” Peterson said. “We know women need us. We saw a need, and here we are.”

For more information about Hope for Widows or to donate, visit its website at hopeforwidows.org.