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Support Network for Grieving College Students Spreads Nationwide (the Founder's story)

Every year, 22 to 30 percent of college students experience the death of a close friend or family member. These students are at greater risk than their peers of a host of academic, social, and developmental issues, including alcohol abuse and dropping out. Yet, nothing existed to support them.

In 2003, David Fajgenbaum’s mother was diagnosed with brain cancer just before he began his freshman year at Georgetown University. David went home every weekend for the next 15 months, but felt alone and unsupported between visits. When he returned for what would be his last trip to see his mom, he told her, “Mom, I’m going to start something in your memory to help other college students coping with an ill loved one.” She loved the idea and passed away two weeks later.

David returned to Georgetown empowered by his desire to fulfill his last promise to his mother. He started Students of AMF—a dual acronym for Ailing Mothers & Fathers and his mom’s name, Anne Marie Fajgenbaum—which began as a peer support group for grieving students, but soon grew into a campus-wide network dedicated to fighting back against terminal illness as well.

Soon, students from other campuses requested info to start similar groups. After discovering that 22-30% of college students grieve the death of a family member or friend each year, David created a nonprofit organization in 2006 dedicated to supporting grieving college students nationwide. National Students of AMF accomplishes this by creating Campus Chapters nationwide that connect and empower students to support one another and channel their grief towards community service.

The organization also advocates for grieving college students and hosts national grief support programs, such as the annual National Conference on College Student Grief. Over the last six years, David has dedicated immeasurable time, energy, and passion into growing this organization into a national movement. Never having received financial compensation, David has dedicated between 20-40 hours a week as Board Chair for all six years and Executive Director for four of the years. David has worked directly with students from over 170 universities, supported the development of 44 official chapters, and raised tremendous awareness for this cause.

Thanks to David’s vision and efforts, 6,000+ grieving college students have benefited from National Students of AMF Support Groups and $3,000,000+ has been raised through Service events for disease research. One AMF member, Julie George (George Washington, 2013), shared, “AMF is the main reason I was able to stay in school. It gave me the perspective and tools to not only get through the most terrible time in my life but to help other students as well.” David’s and AMF’s focus on helping others and community service has been pioneering and innovative within the bereavement community.

This certainly has not been a one-man show; David has motivated and mobilized dozens of others to join this movement. Currently, 74 volunteers on AMF’s Boards of Directors, Advisors, Mental Health Professionals, and Alumni/Student Leaders execute activities for the organization. Today, National Students of AMF reaches thousands of students on 44 campuses throughout the country, with many more in development.

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About the Author

David is the co-Founder and Board Chair of the National Students of AMF Support Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting college students grieving the illness or death of a loved one. David attended Georgetown University for undergrad, Oxford University for an MPH, and the University of Pennsylvania for medical school (currently a 4th year med student).

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