Cornerstone of Hope celebrates 20 years in Independence

by Laura Bednar

Everyone has experienced grief at some point in their lives, and Cornerstone of Hope in Independence has been helping people work through their feelings of loss for two decades.

The bereavement support center on Brecksville Road started in a very personal way when Mark Tripodi and his wife, Christi, experienced the sudden loss of their 3-year-old son. In 2003, they decided to create a support system for those who also experienced the death of a loved one.

When searching for their own grief counseling, Tripodi said it was difficult for he and Christi to find, and the outlets that were available did not have consistent meetings or the proper attention for grieving kids. This was part of what fueled the couple to create their own solution.

Tripodi said a separate business line was installed in their home in the early stages of Cornerstone before moving operations to donated office space on Schaaf Road. The first support group was held in the concession area at Elmwood Pool.

 “We heard in our hearts, ‘Transform this pain into purpose,’” he said. “We visited other grief centers to get a sense of what we needed to build.”

The grief center in Independence, which doubles as Cornerstone’s headquarters, was opened in 2008. Tripodi said it made sense to build in Independence, as he and his wife were longtime residents of the city. “The community has been so supportive,” he said.

Cornerstone offers grief counseling, weekly support groups, camps for grieving children and teens, spiritual direction and other educational programs. Education Director Julia Ellifritt said all programs are professionally led by clinicians. Families are separated based on type of loss and demographic to create a community with other grievers.

Ellifritt said they also have a presence in schools offering support groups and training for administrators and staff to deal with a loss of a student, teacher or other crisis. She said Cornerstone operates on the mantra, “Never grieve alone.”

The entire Cornerstone staff helps to lead other programming like candlelight memorials, a Mother’s Day tea for women who experienced miscarriages, and national grief awareness day recognition.

Staff members also offer continuing education credits required under the Ohio Counselor and Social Work Board. That includes training for professionals to provide grief support in the workplace and training for parish nurses and other lay people in ministry who encounter grief in their constituents.

“There are a limited number of freestanding bereavement centers,” said Ellifritt, adding that most grief counseling is offered through hospitals or hospice centers. Cornerstone has little reliance on government grants as 85% of the center’s operating income comes from philanthropy efforts through the generosity of companies, individuals and fundraising events.

One such fundraiser was the center’s annual gala, held in February. Over 800 guests attended and the result was over $1 million in funds raised. Tripodi said a family that had utilized Cornerstone’s services gave a testimony at the event. “Guests got a heartfelt witness of how we can serve a family after a loss,” he said.

Cornerstone of Hope is Christian-based and welcomes and serves all. “There is no barrier to open doors to any business, school or grieving individual,” Tripodi continued.

Many of the center’s visitors are referred to Cornerstone through church leaders, hospitals and funeral homes. Tripodi said Cornerstone is an extension of those services and one of the center’s biggest accomplishments over the years has been gaining the community’s trust.

“It’s confidential here, it’s a safe and sacred place,” Tripodi said. Ellifritt added that staff are HIPAA compliant and don’t discuss a client’s personal struggles outside of Cornerstone.

Ellifritt said over the years the center has seen an increase in trauma cases in relation to murder, suicide and overdoses. Today they account for 70% of cases. All therapists at the center are trauma-informed.

Tripodi said he and his wife “originally underestimated the need for this type of program in the community,” but 20 years later, 50,000 people have walked through the doors of the Independence location alone.

The couple manages two other locations in Columbus, which was built in 2011, and in Lima, which opened in 2014. Cornerstone is planning an Independence facility expansion in the near future to accommodate more people and additional programming.

To continue the anniversary celebration, Cornerstone will be holding a “Food Truckpalooza” in August open to the community and a national symposium on traumatic loss and grief support in September, featuring Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a leading death educator, author and grief counselor.

“Other plans include a support group reunion, and recognition of service and support milestones awarded throughout the year to staff, volunteers and donors of the organization at all three locations,” according to a press release.

More information can be found at Those interested in volunteering in any capacity at the center can contact ∞

Lisa’s Butterfly Treehouse was built on the Cornerstone of Hope site in 2013. It was featured on Animal Planet’s TV show “Treehouse Masters.” It includes a deck overlooking a forest of trees, and inside, a meditative loft and seating. Photo by Laura Bednar.