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Meet Michele Neff Hernandez of Soaring Spirits International

Today, we’d like to introduce you to Michele Neff Hernandez.

Michele, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
On August 31st of 2005, my husband, Phillip Hernandez, was struck by a Suburban while riding his bicycle. He died of the injuries caused by the accident about one hour after being struck.

Phil was 39 years old at the time of his death, and I was 35. I didn’t know any other widowed people who were my age and raising children. My desire to find other widowed people led me to found Soaring Spirits International with a mission of connecting widowed people with each other. The last ten years I have dedicated my life to providing the connections for other widowed people that I desperately wanted in the early days of my own widowhood.

Our key program is called Camp Widow® and has been held in San Diego at the Marriott Marquis and Marina for the past ten years.

The purpose of this program is to provide relevant resources, a community of support, and hope for the future for the widowed people who attend. We’ve not only impacted the widowed people who attend our event, but our group has become a favorite for the Marriott Marquis team. Their access to our programs has changed the way their employees view the experience of widowhood and the ways in which they support the widowed people in their own lives.

In addition to our annual Camp Widow® weekend, we have an active social group in San Diego which meets twice per month.  Their goal is to assist widowed men and women in rebuilding their social structure after the death of a spouse or partner. Meetings are held in various San Diego locations, restaurants, and beaches.

Soaring Spirits is a secular, inclusive, life-affirming organization. We employ a very broad definition of the word widow and provide program access to people who weren’t legally married, same sex and opposite sex surviving partners, both men and women, and people from/with any or no religious affiliation.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Grief is both a universal and yet very personal experience. Planning events that provide valuable information for a very diverse group of people has been challenging, but so rewarding. The need for grief support programming has continued to rise as programs have been made more widely available, and their usefulness more widely known.

One of the most challenging aspects of this work is changing the cultural conversation about dying, death, and grief. As a society we often seek solutions to problems, yet the ‘problem’ of death can’t be solved. In the absence of the ability to fix grieving people, Soaring Spirits offers support, understanding, and a community of others whose lives have been altered by the death of their spouse or partner. Learning to communicate to the general public, sponsors, granting organizations, and general donors about the value of providing this programming has been a steep learning curve.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Soaring Spirits International – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Widowed people created Soaring Spirits because we discovered that connecting with other widowed people made the challenges of surviving a spouse or partner a little easier to manage.

Soaring Spirits offers widowed men and women understanding, friendship, inspiration, and encouragement as they learn to live without the person with whom they intended to spend the rest of their lives. Our positive culture and inclusivity set us apart from other organizations serving widowed people. We use a combination of in-person and online programming that is unique and gives us the ability to serve widowed people anywhere in the world.

We believe that hope matters, and every one of our programs reflects that value. We are proud of having served 3,000,000 widowed men and women over the past ten years, and we are very proud of the positive impact we’ve made in San Diego and every community in which we serve.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We’ve just founded the first research center working specifically with data collected from widowed men and women. The Soaring Spirits Resilience Center at Schreiner University will focus on creating research-based, practical tools to build resilience in grieving populations based on what we learn from the widowed community.

We’ve also added a kids’ grief camp called Camp Widow® Kids to our San Diego program. This new program will serve widowed families by providing side-by-side grief camps for parents and kids.  Our hope is that this will allow each group to focus on their own grief recovery as individuals while also allowing the family to come together at the end of each day to share their experiences and benefit from a community of support created by access to other widowed families.


  • Camp Widow® registration fee $399.00 per widowed registration, no fee for children’s program

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Michael Dare
Harold Buchanan

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