history & background

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.