U of M athlete who survived 2 plane crashes in GR Thursday

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A University of Michigan basketball alumnus who survived two plane crashes that killed his family will share his journey through grief Thursday in Grand Rapids.

Austin Hatch is expected to speak during the Fall Reception for Ele’s Place Grand Rapids.

In 2003, Hatch lost his mother, younger brother and older sister in a plane crash near Fort Wayne. He and his father, who was piloting, survived.

A second crash eight years later killed his pilot father and his stepmother, whom Hatch came to cherish as his “second mom,” according to Ele’s Place.

Hatch says grief programs like the ones Ele’s Place provides are necessary and life-changing.

Ele’s Place has been in Grand Rapids for five years.

“It went quickly, but we are thrilled to be here and doing the work that we are doing,” said director Jaime Counterman.

A couple who lost their 11-year-old daughter in 1991 started Ele’s Place out of a church basement in Lansing. Since then, the grief support organization has expanded to include Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Flint.

Ele’s Place offers age-appropriate grief support groups for everyone.

“Grief doesn’t just touch one person in the family, it crosses everyone in the family," explained Counterman.

The programs are available in schools and at the organization’s offices, located at 2000 Michigan Street NE. 

“Children grieve differently, and it’s important that we can help them through that grief process so they can manage that and live long healthy lives with that grief, because grief is really a lifetime thing. It’s not something you get over, it’s something that becomes a part of you, and we want that to be healthy for children," Counterman said.

Ele’s Place Grand Rapids’ Fall Reception is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at New Vintage Place. Event tickets are $100 each and available online.

Ele’s Place is funded by donations and run by volunteers. To find out how you can help, visit the organization’s website.

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