Trained peer ministers who have experienced a similar loss form the team which primarily facilitates three-day grief resolution workshops and provides pre- and post-weekend support programs, such as “Coping With Life Alone” and “Continued Beginnings.”The Beginning Experience¬Æ ministry was founded by St. Mary of Namur Sister Josephine Stewart who, with her divorced friend, Jo Lamia, developed the original weekend program in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1974. Today, teams in more than 100 communities across the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore facilitate retreats and other activities.Sister Josephine, a trained family counselor, trained the founding members of the Los Angeles chapter, Marita Goodman (who became the first “BELA” president) and Joyce Schrello (divorced, raising three children on her own). Sister Josephine presented at the first Los Angeles-area Beginning Experience weekend, in March 1981 at a Salvation Army facility in Palos Verdes. Sister Margaret McHugh and Russ Neglia became part of the original Los Angeles team that facilitated the second BE weekend for grieving Catholics in October 1981 at the Claretian Retreat Center.Through the years, the BELA team has served hundreds of widowed, separated and divorced people and their children, including participants from the Orange and San Diego areas before they formed their own local chapters. This ministry has grown through the support of the International Ministry Center and existing chapters which provide a solid foundation in the training of lay ministers in the presentation and facilitation of its copyrighted programs, including “Children’s BE.”The Los Angeles chapter was instrumental in the creation of the weekend program in Spanish and initiating it in Fresno, Phoenix and Texas. Bilingual facilitators are usually available to help limited-English participants make the most of an English language weekend if Spanish programs are not offered.Many people from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles have supported BELA since Cardinal Timothy Manning met with Marita and Joyce in 1981 and gave the ministry his blessing. Marcella Keyes (a participant and later BELA president) told her pastor at the time, Father Joseph Sartoris (now Bishop Sartoris), about the ministry and he became so enthusiastic that he generously provided scholarships to help participants attend a weekend, as did Father Tom Glynn, who presided at the closing Mass for the weekends in the early days. Today, Joan Vienna (director of the Office of Family Life) is a steadfast supporter of the Beginning Experience weekends as well as related archdiocesan events and programs. Father Patrick Hill (BELA’s spiritual director) leads Spiritual Renewal workshops and also participates in the weekend programs. And we’ve received tremendous support from local parish priests at different venues.Indeed, the team feels truly blessed to have found a home at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino --- a beautiful, peaceful setting to hold our thought-provoking weekend programs. The Sisters of Social Service have been very gracious in their hospitality towards us since our first weekend there in January 2010.Without a doubt, our greatest assets are our dedicated team members who consistently operate above and beyond the call of duty along with many of our “veterans” who are still very involved in supporting the active team. Our Auxiliary (support team) includes early pioneers and past presidents like Marcella Keyes and Joyce Schrello, Dora Abrena, Elsie McElhone, Dick Van Dusen, Arcelia Vargas, Ricardo Perea and Rosella (Aubry) Barreda with her husband, Ubaldo. So many continue to contribute their time, talent and treasure, year after year, and are an inspiration to those who follow in their footsteps. Brenda Mikhail is president of Beginning Experience’s Los Angeles chapter. For information, visit{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0527/bela/{/gallery}