OUR MISSION

ForeverU is a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering teens in grades 7-12 with the mental skills and tools for becoming more mindful, resilient, and emotionally intelligent. At ForeverU, we believe that regardless of the trials or adversities a young person is experiencing, they deserve free access to uplifting mentors, supportive communities, and programming tailored to their life story.

Since our story began in 2012, our presence has been a promise to teens who struggle to see better days that there is something inside them this world is waiting to see. This promise has become the foundation for the three-part program we have designed that presents those we serve with hope, strength, and belonging as they learn how to establish a meaningful life path for themselves and their future. All that being said, we want you to know that no matter what story you are living in this moment, we are so glad you're here.

Be brave. Be bold. Be you.

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OUR STORY

ForeverU was founded in 2012 by Ryan Hesslau at only sixteen years old after learning about a local high school student who had unfortunately died by suicide. This tragedy prompted Ryan to begin researching the stories of other young people who also lost their battle to an underlying mental health condition. After collecting concerning statistics about how often young people died by suicide, Ryan became determined to bring knowledge about mental health to the forefront of local communities, normalize the conversations about mental health altogether, and create a robust program model that would help youth who are struggling find the resilience to keep living. Since graduating from Trinity Christian College in 2018 with a degree in Entrepreneurial Management, Ryan has continued to voluntarily lead ForeverU as its President and Executive Director.

Our organization has been entirely volunteer-operated through the years, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our revamped Board of Directors has used this time to rebuild our infrastructure diligently and re-envision the type of impact we could create in the lives of youth and families around the country. With that in mind, to help uphold and support the new three-part program model we will be introducing this spring, we are preparing to hire three full-time program staff members, three part-time program staff members and estimate that we will certify at least 30+ new mentors per year who will help us reach approximately 190+ new youth each year.

“I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without ForeverU. I am a more open, confident, and better person for having been involved in this organization. My life is a better one because of ForeverU and the people involved in it, students and mentors alike. It helped me to see that I am worth being supported.” – Grace V.

ForeverU has been committed to serving youth in seventh through the twelfth grade of any and all races, sexes, ages, residency, religions, sexual orientations, ancestry, or any other protected status. Those who enroll in ForeverU experience at least one or more of the following mental health conditions: depression, anxiety, self-injury, suicidal ideation, trauma, low self-esteem, or emotional effects from bullying. These mental health conditions, along with difficult living situations, times of social isolation, and lack of support networks, are often major risk factors for future suicide attempts.  While we work closely with medical professionals such as Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital based in New Lenox, IL, and have a passionate team of licensed mental health professionals overseeing our program model, it is crucial to note that our volunteers, employees, and representatives are not medical professionals. They are individuals who are passionate about offering hope and belonging to youth experiencing mental health challenges.


Therefore, ForeverU should be utilized as an extension or "add-on" resource to youth undergoing professional treatment or receiving formal counseling services from licensed mental health professionals. The information and program we provide are meant to encourage and support students and are not meant to replace medical professionals' advice or expertise. ForeverU works closely with a growing partnership network that consists of school districts, behavioral health hospitals, treatment centers, and private practices to reach students and provide a well-rounded extension to their mental health care. These strategic partnerships serve as a bridge between our program and youth who would benefit from our available services.


As an organization that works directly with youth, we are dedicated to "raising the bar" for high-quality volunteer training. All volunteers who serve within our organization as a mentor or instructor must have at least an undergraduate degree in a mental health-related field. They must also be a certified mandated reporter, provide at least two references, undergo an intensive screening process, and complete our volunteer training program in partnership with Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital. In fact, we are currently working with Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital and our university partners in the hope that we can transform our mentoring opportunity into a training or internship opportunity for college students pursuing a degree in a mental health-related field.

“ForeverU has taught me that this battle makes me stronger and that it's not about what brings us down, but how we work through those things to become a better version of ourselves.” - Annie G.

Every component of our organization guides students through a journey tailored to their individual needs. Whether they are battling depression, complicated home lives, encountering bullying at school, trying to manage their anxiety, or anything in between, students will undergo a significant transformation from their involvement in our stigma and judgement-free program model. Beyond the designated time working directly with a student in ForeverU, we also work closely with their parent or legal guardian to ensure that healing and growth continue to take place outside of our program and remain present within the household.

CARING FOR THE HEARTS & MINDS OF YOUTH

Research shows us that one in five youth will experience a mental health challenge at some point during their life.[1] Research also shows us that suicide has become the tenth leading cause of death in the United States overall; however, it is the second leading cause of death for people aged ten to thirty-five, second to only unintentional injury.

 

From 1999 to 2018, suicide rates have increased by 35% overall and have increased by 32% in the past four years amongst teenagers. The prevalence of suicide attempts in the United States is highest among people between the ages 18 to 25;[2] therefore, it is vital that we work directly with youth before they reach this point to prevent the tragedy that is suicide. Tending to the problem before it becomes too severe is crucial in combating the many challenges that come with a mental health condition. In fact, a study in 2019 indicated that 18.8% of high school students have seriously considered suicide.[3] More teenagers die by suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, strokes, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined with an average of 3,703 suicide attempts every day by youth in grades 9-12 in the United States.[4]

 

Today’s youth are facing increasing mental pressure related to academics, athletics, extra-curricular activities, and more. This pressure can have negative ramifications on a young person, including high stress, anxiety, self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts, and many other mental health challenges. In light of the statistics on suicide among youth in the United States, it is clear that we must intervene before it is too late. The strategic approach we have taken in the development of our programming ensures that students who complete our program have the fundamental skills necessary to overcome any life adversity they encounter despite their mental health challenges.

 

The Youth Mental Health First Aid USA training manual describes protective factors that support youth and facilitate early intervention for developing mental health issues.[5] ForeverU promotes several of these protective factors, including good self-esteem, community bonding, feeling close to at least one adult, healthy practices, feeling of control in their life, avoiding alcohol/tobacco/other drugs, good problem-solving skills, and having a good social support system. By assisting young people on their mental health journey, we impact far beyond the individual. Our work extends to family, friends, immediate communities, and the world as a whole in preventing suicidal ideation and self-destructive behavior through the power of education and communal support.

 

[1] “Mental Health First Aid for Youth.” Mental Health First Aid. <www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/population-focused-modules/youth/>.

[2] “Suicide.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml.

[3] “Public Health Impact: Teen Suicide.” America's Health Rankings, United Health Foundation, 2021, www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/health-of-women-and-children/measure/teen_suicide/state/ALL.

[4] “Youth Suicide Statistics.” Parent Resource Program, 27 Aug. 2020, prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/.

[5] Anthoney Jorm and Betty Kitchener. Youth Mental Health First Aid USA Training Manual. National Council for Community Behavior Healthcare. 2019

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Gwendolyn Sterk

Attorney and Team Leader

Sterk Family Law Group, P.C. 

Erik Maranto

Development Manager

American Lung Association of Chicago

Shetal Patel

Owner, Director of Operations

Aesthetica Day Spa

Amber Schnepp

School Psychologist

Bradley-Bourbonnais High School

 

Ryan Hesslau

Founder and Executive Director

ForeverU

Troy Griffiths

Certified Public Accountant

Troy W. Griffiths LLC

Dan McGonigle

Vice President

ORA Dental Partners

Kendra Zantingh

Professor of Human Resources

Trinity Christian College

Christina Skrip

Director of Assessment and Referral

Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital

Emily Shayman

Assistant Professor of Social Work

Lewis University

Scott Hullinger

Chief Executive Officer

Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital

Christian Perry

State Director of Community Development IL Criminal Justice Information Authority

Richard Hesslau

Senior Project Designer and Specialist

Sargent & Lundy LLC - Nuclear Div.

Dan Borowski

Central US Territory Manager

3M Commercial Solutions Division

Nathan Lagacy

Licensed Professional Counselor

Mental Edge Counseling