About The Christi Center

We offer hope after the death of a loved one by providing support networks, community education and therapeutic activities that are free, peer-based, and ongoing.

Our Mission

We offer hope after the death of a loved one by providing support networks, community education and therapeutic activities that are free, peer-based, and ongoing.

Our Core Values

To provide grief support at no charge to grieving families for as long as they need it

To educate and increase community awareness on issues facing the bereaved

To build community partnerships to better support grieving people

To preserve a diverse and sustainable base of volunteer and financial support to ensure that the Center’s services will always be available for those in need

Who We Serve

Any child, teen, or adult who is grieving the death of a loved one.  We partner with schools, criminal justice agencies, civic and service organizations, businesses, churches and other community groups. We cross-refer with over 150 community agencies to ensure that we can meet the broad range of needs grieving families may have.  Our services are open and available to Austin and all of Central Texas, with group locations across the Austin area and in Williamson County.

Our Story

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The Christi Center is named after Christi Lanahan, a UT Junior and Westlake High alumna who was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 1985. For her mom and stepdad, Susan and Don Cox, life was permanently altered in an instant. In a state of shock and consumed with grief, they found few community resources to support grieving families. Drowning in grief and facing great personal and marital challenges, the Coxes and Christi’s brother, Sean Lanahan decided to reach out to others instead of retreating. On the two-year anniversary of Christi’s death, they founded the nonprofit “For the Love of Christi”, with a mission to provide free, ongoing grief support to Central Texans who have experienced a loss of a loved one.

At the heart of the organization is the Center’s peer-based grief support group model, which “normalizes” the grief experience by connecting the bereaved with others who have experienced losses of a similar nature, showing them that hope is possible after loss.  The Center serves children, teens, and adults. Now called The Christi Center, the organization provides support groups throughout the life cycle to build well-being and help our community members reach their full potential. Other services include:

  • Community education so that we are all better equipped to help the grieving people in our lives
  • Activities designed to build lasting memories and increase the toolkit for coping with life without a loved one
  • An innovative schools-based program that connects our community’s youngest grievers with trained volunteers for individual counseling

We have over 30 years of experience providing love, hope, comfort and support to people of all ages in a warm and welcoming environment. All of us need a sturdy foundation to weather life’s storms and layers of support in our lives to truly thrive.

Meet Our Founders

All you have to do is enter the front door of The Christi Center to experience first-hand the warm and caring compassion that defines The Christi Center.

Susan and Don Cox created The Christi Center out of horrific loss. Their selfless commitment to helping others grieve deeply touches everyone who reaches out to the Center seeking support and comfort from others who know grief.
In 1985, their bright and beautiful 20-year old daughter Christi Lanahan was a junior at the University of Texas in Austin when she was killed by a drunk driver. In a state of shock and consumed with grief, they found few community resources to support grieving families. Drowning in grief and facing great personal and marital challenges, the Coxes (along with Christi’s brother, Sean) decided to reach out to others instead of retreating.

Two years later, Susan and Don created For the Love of Christi, known now as The Christi Center., They guided the establishment of a one-of-a-kind grief center where love is at the heart of all we do with an unconditional acceptance of all who ask for help.

In the early years of the organization, Susan and Don organized grief support groups at various locations around Austin, eventually acquiring the property on Hancock Drive where The Christi Center currently stands. With the help of friends and supporters, they added an annex designed to accommodate more people and larger support group sessions, and later, a family building to provide dedicated space for children/teens and additional staff offices. Under Susan and Don’s leadership, these buildings were completed with full community support and The Christi Center owns these buildings debt-free. In 2010, The Christi Center expanded to Williamson County with a satellite location in Georgetown.

The Cox’s decision to offer grief services free of charge emerged from the example of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who operated hospitals, schools and orphanages for the poorest of the poor.

Over the years, the community of staff, volunteers, and supporters Susan and Don brought together have served well over 100,000 people who seek help in a time of loss. Now retired from day-to-day operations, Susan and Don continue to volunteer as group facilitators, serve on the Board, and give generously of their time and resources. The Christi Center is their legacy to our community.

"Can you imagine someone applying for a job to work in the grief area? They put their heart and soul into being here. Their reward comes when, in the midst of grief, they hear the unexpected and welcome sound of laughter, reminding all that after the grief, comes healing and hope."

– Don Cox, Co-Founder

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Our Staff

The Christi Center’s devoted staff is complemented by compassionate volunteers and student interns from local universities. Groups are facilitated by extensively trained facilitators and supervised by a licensed social worker.   Always advocates for the needs of grieving people, we also provide outreach and education on grief and issues facing the bereaved for schools, businesses, churches, community organizations and allied professionals.

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Lara George

Executive Director

I joined the staff of The Christi Center in 2012 and felt an immediate connection to the love, hope, resiliency and strength of all the members, volunteers and staff.  In February 2016, I began the Executive Director, and am excited to lead The Christi Center through the next stage, as we work to serve more people beyond the walls of The Christi Center. I previously worked at The Texas Observer and Austin Smiles, and have a degree in Cultural Anthropology from Temple University in Philadelphia. I also enjoy yoga, gardening, cooking, travel, and my small family.

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Erin Spalding, LCSW

Program Director

My name is Erin Spalding and I have known that I wanted to work in grief and loss since I knew there was such a thing.  After having lost my Dad to a heart attack when I was nine and losing the mom I knew to a stroke when I was 17 (she never fully recovered); I knew that I wanted my education to support my future goal of helping others deal with devastating loss.

I received my Bachelors in Psychology and Masters in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin.  In my first graduate class at UT, I was shown a video of The Christi Center’s Kids Who Kare program and I knew I had to find a way to do an internship for this wonderful organization.  I completed my Masters internship at The Christi Center in 2007 and was hired on as Program Director in 2008.  Though I work on everything from evaluation to strategic planning in my role, my passion is the work I do helping those in grief embrace their strengths and find hope.  I do this through facilitation of the teen and young adult groups, community trainings on grief and loss and by supervising upcoming clinical professional interns who provide much of our services to the school system.

Of course, one of the things I always tell the members, volunteers and interns – self-care is an important piece of helping others too.  To that end, I anything outside when it’s not too hot and a regular yoga practice.  Being around animals of all kinds is probably what brings me the most joy.  Though, my Looney Luna, the yorkie, and Toby, the fat cat, are my favorites.

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Cathy Collins

Crime Victims Advocate

I was first introduced to The Christi Center in 1990 after the murder of my brother.  I have had a lifetime relationship with this organization.  Along with my 4 boys, my parents also became very involved with the center.  We all took advantage of the various support groups that were offered.  The organization literally saved our lives and Susan and Don become such wonderful friends.

I learned everything I could about the grief journey by mentoring under Susan and Don.  I came in as a volunteer and eventually was fortunate to come aboard on the staff.  That was over 12 years ago and I have such gratitude for walking through the door of the wonderful place.   Now I am able to give back to others what I received.

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Christi Neville, LPC

Peer Support Coordinator

My interest in grief and loss began in 1997, when a tragic accident claimed the love of my life, and catapulted me into a humbling journey of healing. An intern counselor at the time,  I  was astounded to realized our culture’s lack of understanding of grief, and as I committed myself to my own personal growth, my thirst for knowledge led me into professional realms as well.  After graduating with my Master’s in Counseling from The University of Denver in 1999, I began a holistic private practice in Colorado devoted exclusively to grief, and from that foundation, have led support groups for children, for surviving family members at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and have run several hospice bereavement programs. 

After relocating back to my native Texas, I was lucky enough to find The Christi Center, and am excited to contribute my blend of personal and professional experience as I support the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of loss.  Outside of work, I enjoy music, meditation, and spending time outside with my super-duper son, who reminds me daily to stay present to the magic and wonder of life.

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Mary S. Wynn, MA

Community Program Coordinator

Supporting children, teens, and families in their grief journey has been woven into my career path over the past 30 years. As a teacher, social justice advocate and counselor it has been my honor to assist young people as they move through their experience with trauma, loss, discrimination, and hardship to find their voice in search of safety, hope, recovery, peace and a positive path forward into adulthood.

My role in coordinating grief support on school campuses throughout Austin is a perfect match with my experience, passion, and hope that no child grieves alone. I am thankful for the opportunity to work at the Christi Center and hope that I can be a resource for you as needed in the days ahead.

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Jocelyn Chamra-Barrera, LCSW

Program Manager

My name is Jocelyn Chamra-Barrera and I have been a social worker in the Austin community since 2014. I feel incredibly lucky to call myself a social worker and be a part of so many people’s lives.  Being a part of someone’s life during a time in their lives when they need it, has been a fulfilling part of my own journey as a therapist. Here at the Christi Center, unfortunate circumstances bring people to our agency.  My role is to help you find light in the darkness and despair to find a new place of hope.

I received my Bachelors in Psychology and my Masters in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin. I worked extensively with families as a mental health professional at Family Resource Centers and Child Advocacy Centers. I am so excited to join the team at The Christi Center and continue my personal mission of providing support to individuals and families.

In my spare time, I enjoy being making and drinking lots of coffee and spending time with my husband, my fur-children: Karma and Nacho (the cats), and Ezra (the Border Collie/Mix).

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Melissa Bjørdal

Operations Coordinator

While am new to the Christi Center staff, as of 2017, I have been a long time volunteer and could not be more pleased to be a permanent member of this warm and welcoming team. My professional background is in Project Management and I look forward to putting those skills to use at the Christi Center.

I live in Cedar Park with my husband, Ståle, and my two children, Noah (14) and Lilly (10).  In my spare time I enjoy yoga, Crossfit (I am a co-owner of Heroes Crossfit), and much to my own surprise have recently found a love for sewing.

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"Grief is expensive. The individual therapy for my family is hundreds every month during this acute phase. My son died only 5 months ago. It is so painful that not only did I lose my son, but I’m also having to pay for his last days in the hospital and for so much therapy dealing with losing him. So having this free, no financial pressure environment gives my family tremendous relief."

– Anonymous Client

Board Members

Mike Twomey, President
Jeffrey Richard, Vice President
Brooks Slaughter, Treasurer
Theresa Golde, Secretary
Carol Willis  Immediate Past President
Elda Arellaño
Don Cox, Co-Founder
Susan Cox, Co-Founder
Dianna Groves, M.Ed, LPC
Elliot Hendrix
David Jumonville
Patricia Ortega
Fred Patrizi, Ph.D.
Maureen Patrizi
Paul Reddam

Financials

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