Thank you for believing in us.

Due to ongoing fundraising challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to grow FOREVERU over the last two years, I have made the heart-wrenching decision to step away from my position leading the mission of FOREVERU, and because of the infant stage of development we are in, our board of directors has supported my proposal to dissolve the organization as a whole.

Almost ten years ago, as an incoming sophomore at Lincoln-Way East High School, I set out on a personal mission to provide hope and belonging to local teens in my community experiencing mental health challenges. I had no roadmap. I had no knowledge. I just had a heart for helping my peers know with confidence that there was something inside them this world was waiting to see. When this journey began in 2012, FOREVERU started as a simple Facebook page to raise mental health awareness that quickly transitioned into an after-school club at my high school. This after-school club then evolved into a larger community project. That community project then transformed into a local nonprofit organization. To this day, I remember walking around the New Lenox Commons during summer movie nights, collecting donations to help get the organization off the ground and, in return, providing navy blue silicone wristbands that said: "Be ForeverU." Then there was the time at sixteen when I was terribly worried about school officials taking me seriously when I requested a meeting, so I used money I had saved up to purchase a brown leather briefcase where I would store the one-pagers and business cards I made in Publisher. 

 

I will forever cherish moments like these.

In the earliest years of our mission, we didn't have much to offer other than speaking events that required me to find the courage to start public speaking. I can't count how many different programs, campaigns, and curriculums I attempted to create and launch through our history. We had student advisory boards, school-based programs, university-based initiatives, student-led leadership programs, all-day workshops for schools, and so much more. I can vividly remember sitting down with a mentor in the early days of our organization and him asking me to write out everything we offered on a whiteboard. I kid you not, there were probably 30+ different projects listed on that whiteboard that I was trying to run all at once.

 

The one area that we had the most success with early on were school-wide speaking events. Keep in mind that I was not a polished public speaker, nor did I enjoy the feeling of standing in a gymnasium full of students roughly my age and delivering a purpose-driven message. I had my first speaking event at Chicago Ridge Middle School as a high school student, and by the time I went off to college, I was gifted with the opportunity to deliver a 50-minute message about hope to thousands of students across the state of Illinois. While I haven't taken the stage in a while (though I hope to return one day), I always had one objective each time I had a microphone in hand; do it for the one. I knew that realistically I couldn't create a student-wide difference, but I did know that I could rock at least one person's world, and that's exactly what I set out to do. The beautiful part about these moving events is that many of the students sitting in the audiences I would speak to would eventually participate in our programs, and would even later become mentors in our programs as well.

At that time, our organization was blessed to have its mission and message begin receiving much-needed media attention. We were featured on numerous radio shows, televised media like Steve Harvey, and countless news articles throughout Chicago land. While balancing my undergrad at Trinity Christian College and FOREVERU (as well some other ventures I had my hands in), I began applying what I was learning in the classroom and allowed my college years to be a season of rebuilding FOREVERU's foundation from scratch.

 

By graduation day in 2018, we had our first board of directors (outside my family) and had a few simple and scalable programs we could offer to struggling teens in the community like our overnight camps, weekend retreats, and peer support groups. We carried out some remarkable, long-lasting work through the years and we not only impacted young lives, but I know firsthand we saved lives as well.

You believed in me and this mission. You committed time and energy to this mission. You donated money to this mission. As hard as this decision is for me, I will never be able to thank you enough for choosing to join me on this ride through the years. As painful as this is to write, I want you to know that my work in the lives of young people is far from over. Some of you may know that earlier this fall, I started grad school for clinical mental health counseling to acquire the knowledge, experience, credentials to become a licensed mental health clinician and continue my mission of helping our young people recognize their inherently unique potential professionally.
 

Thank you to my parents, Rich and Claudia, for being my support system since day one.

Thank you to every person, foundation, or company who donated monetarily to our mission.

Thank you to every young adult who volunteered or mentored in our programs through the years.

Thank you to our current and past board members who donated time and energy to our mission.

Most importantly, to every student and alumni member:

  • I am not going anywhere.

  • I am forever in your corner.

  • I am so dang proud of you.

  • I am honored to know you.

  • There is so much good in you.


By clicking below, I included some of local resources that we recommend if you need guidance, direction, or support for you, your child, or your family. All remaining assets will be divided and donated to local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations.


Thank you for your support and understanding through this difficult process. I give this organization my very best.

 

Best,

Ryan Hesslau

Founder, FOREVERU
 

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