| The Mission & Vision

FOREVERU® is a nonprofit youth organization dedicated to helping teenagers write the next chapter of their life story through personal growth experiences. Our approach aims to transform the lives of adolescents ages 12-18 facing internal or external adversities by granting them free access to passionate mentors, uplifting peer communities, and programming tailored to their individualized needs and aspirations. We could not accomplish these life-changing efforts without the dedicated and generous financial support of our growing donor network.

Since our journey began in 2012, our presence has been a promise to youth 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 our programs that present those we serve with hope and belonging as they learn how to establish a meaningful life path for themselves and their future. Taking these steps moves us closer to our vision of a community where every young person believes they have an inherently unique purpose worth living for, persevering for, and fighting for.

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Started by a teen, for teens.

FOREVERU was founded in 2012 by Ryan Hesslau at sixteen years old after learning about a high school student who had died by suicide in a nearby community. This tragedy prompted Ryan to begin researching the stories of other young people from around the country 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 college in 2018 with a B.S. in Entrepreneurship, Ryan has continued to lead FOREVERU as our President and Executive Director, while also an active M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling student.


The meaning behind the name.

As you read our startup story, you will learn that the catalyst behind our name and its meaning  was created by Ryan Hesslau who founded the organization in his early years of high school. Each person we serve has their own definition of what it means to them, but this is what it means to us:

 "With each day, I choose to embrace all that I am and hold close to all that I strive to be, trusting that there is something inside me this world is waiting to see." 

Caring for young hearts and minds.

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 or emotional 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. <>.

[2] “Suicide.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

[3] “Public Health Impact: Teen Suicide.” America's Health Rankings, United Health Foundation, 2021,

[4] “Youth Suicide Statistics.” Parent Resource Program, 27 Aug. 2020,

[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

Shetal Patel

Owner, Director of Operations

Aesthetica Day Spa

Amber Schnepp

School Psychologist

Bradley-Bourbonnais HS

Ryan Hesslau

Chief Executive Officer


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

Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital

Emily Shayman

Assistant Prof. 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

Sargent & Lundy LLC - Nuclear

Dan Borowski

Central US Territory Manager

3M Commercial Solutions

Nathan Lagacy

Licensed Prof. Counselor

Mental Edge Counseling