I am far removed from my teenage years at this point, but I’m lucky enough to have a sister in high school letting me re-live those fun and tumultuous times through her. I normally enjoy the conversations that remind me of my own locker situations and learning experiences, but one day, the exchange provoked more than a memory or comment from me. My sister shared that a local teenage boy, known by many of her friends, had committed suicide.
I immediately recognized this moment as a potential touchpoint for teaching my sister that some situations in life require action. She needed to know by my example this wasn’t ok. This young boy was worth so much more. After all, could have been my sibling, my cousin, or my own friend when I was 15. It felt stagnant to do nothing. It felt wrong to keep quiet. With little background in mental health or teen depression, I determined to focus on my strengths, artistic programming.
In my career, I have cultivated, planned and executed many different types of artistic programming initiatives, but this was my first collaboration with mental health themes. I reached out to the Mental Health Association of Monmouth and to a local high school that had experienced several incidents of suicide. I found artistic mentors to partner, received training on teen suicide and jumped into a program I titled “100 Reasons to Live.”
“100 Reasons to Live,” is a project to promote the idea that life is good and should be enjoyed. In the program, students brainstorm on a large list taped to the wall, writing down everything they decide is a reason to live. Then we take this list and artistically interpret each item by representing them in songs, poems, drawings, paintings, videos, stories, sculptures – you name it!
The program was a great success. We worked with 50 high school students on the project. In our 100 Reasons gallery we displayed the work and shared performances created for this project. We received financial and material support from local businesses and our project was hi-lighted by 94.3 the Point radio station who interviewed 6 participants. We even shot a music video on an off-broadway stage!
Recently, an organization in Toms River, NJ that works with at-risk youth, has contacted me about this program. These are students who have battled with thoughts of suicide and other hard struggles that teenagers should be free-of so they can focus on things like college applications and who to ask to prom. Unfortunately, the day to day reality of some of these students is darker. I need the help of big-hearted individuals, who are inspired to do something, to help me bring this program to these students. If the community comes together to value the life of our youth, they WILL feel it. It WILL make a difference. It needs to start somewhere and from someone, so how about you?
Visit http://www.indiegogo.com/100Reasons2Live to read more information, contribute and learn more about how you can show these teens that there is so much to live for and that their mental health is important to all of us. We would be grateful for your support. Every little bit is an enormous help!