Roughly 1.1 million people in the U.S. become widowed each year. In 2005, Michele Neff Hernandez became part of that statistic. As a widowed person at age 35, she quickly learned that the widowed population was underserved and decided to change that narrative. She founded the nonprofit Soaring Spirits International (SSI) in 2008, with the simple goal of connecting widowed people and providing them with resources and tools to rebuild their lives post-loss.
What started as a tragic experience full of loss and grief has become a beacon of light and connection for widowed people all over the world. Michele Neff Hernandez’s life changed forever in 2005 when her husband Philip was hit and killed while on his evening bike ride. Such a major loss led her to search for connections with other widowed people who had experienced her pain at one point or another. In 2008, after years of building connections with people in a similar position, she founded Soaring Spirits, a non-profit, international grief network that connects widowed people with one another.
Michele Neff Hernandez has been named a Top 10 CNN Hero of 2021. Neff Hernandez is the founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Soaring Spirits International (SSI), whose mission is simple – to connect widowed people with each other and offer them resources, community, and hope for rebuilding their lives after loss. This is the 15th Year CNN Heroes is honoring everyday people who are making extraordinary contributions to help improve the lives of others.
In 2005, Michele Neff Hernandez and her husband, Phillip, were enjoying the active life they built as a couple. “We hiked. We biked. We ran. We just had such a good time together,” Neff Hernandez said. But everything changed on a late August evening when Phillip went for a bike ride and was hit by a car and killed. “I didn’t even know what to do with myself,” Neff Hernandez said. “Every single thing about my life changed, from where I slept, to where I ate … to who was I going to check in with if I had a flat tire.” While she had a great support system to help her during the difficult time, she said none of them knew how to handle her grief.