Following the suicide of her 17-year-old son, Stuart, last summer, Richmonder Alex Slusher spoke to a number of area schools about it.
"A year before he took his life, [Stuart] lost two of his mentors. … Unresolved grief can really affect children," Alex says of her son's death. "More than anything, I think it was the combination of things."
Slusher says she gives lectures to local counselors, parents, teachers and students in the hope that "it could save just one life." Slusher adds that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, and when talking to parents, she encourages them to ask their children if they are thinking about hurting themselves.
"You are not introducing an idea," she says. "They want to know that their parents love them no matter what. The irony is that we do, we just get busy."
In response to Stuart's death, Slusher and her husband, Mark, have established the Stuart H. Slusher Memorial Scholarship Fund with two goals: to improve suicide-awareness and -prevention efforts in the area, as well as to provide college scholarships for local high school students. This year, the Stuart H. Slusher Memorial Scholarship Fund awarded scholarships to 11 Douglas S. Freeman High School seniors who were Stuart's classmates — handing out a total of more than $11,000.
Stuart's longtime friend Steven Ebert, a fellow Freeman student, dealt with Stuart's death by getting involved in the scholarship fund, and then he made a plan of his own: the Hold Hope Initiative.
"[I] happened to see an ad for Refresh Everything, a project Pepsi started to provide grants to people who have good ideas but can't implement them because they don't have funding," Ebert says.
Realizing he might have a shot at a $50,000 grant, in February he created a video, posted it on Facebook and dubbed his project the Hold Hope Initiative. "The idea [is] that no matter how tough things get, there is always something to hold onto — hope," he explains.
The Pepsi grant is awarded according to the number of public votes each entrant receives, with the top 10 finishers earning grants. If the Hold Hope Initiative receives the grant, Ebert says the funds will be used to provide materials on suicide awareness to students in local schools and to set up a Web site that will provide additional information.
"The grant will pay for countywide suicide-prevention training for staff and teachers from every Henrico County school, and for community, parent and student suicide-education programs," explains Slusher, who is involved in promoting Hold Hope.
In addition, Ebert says, the goal is to create community forums where students, teachers and experts can discuss suicide, depression and the surrounding issues. He adds that a portion of the funds would be used to keep the initiative running, by setting up fundraisers.
"This is more than a grant — this is literally life and death," Ebert says. "I believe that had Stuart heard this message, maybe he would have made a different decision. If the message can't get to Stuart, I truly hope that it can get to as many people as possible."
Currently, the Hold Hope Initiative is ranked number 113, with voting ending July 31. Each month, the voting starts over and re-enters applicants for the next month's grants. People can cast 10 votes per day, but just one per day for a specific project. To vote for the Hold Hope Initiative, visit holdhope.org .
To make donations to the Stuart H. Slusher Memorial Scholarship Fund, checks can be sent to 213 Riverwood Drive, Richmond, Va. 23229.