My name is Annie and I have been a part of ForeverU for about six or seven years. I first heard about ForeverU during high school. At that time, Ryan Hesslau was a year above me and he gave a presentation to our school during our advisory classes. Little did Ryan know; I was only planning on being alive for a few more days. In the Lincoln-Way East auditorium my life changed when I heard Ryan tell us that he cared and that he was there. It was one of the first times someone said that to me, and I believed it. From that day I knew I needed help. I went home and agreed to try therapy and seeing a psychiatrist, and it saved my life. A few years go by and I got in touch with Ryan. I wanted him to know that he saved my life and I wanted to be a part of his idea because I knew it was going to change more than just my life. After many years and many different versions of ForeverU, we are doing it. ForeverU is reaching people and letting them know they are not alone in this life. Mentors and students are working and supporting one another to fight our inner and outer battles together.
I became a mentor during 2015 and Ryan was diligently working on spreading ForeverU to many more people. That next summer we had our first summer camp and I shared my entire story for the first time ever, with a bunch of 15 to 18-year-old strangers. Since then I have been a mentor and member of ForeverU. Being a mentor at ForeverU is one of my favorite things in my life. ForeverU is one of the best parts of my life. And this opportunity helped me realize that I did not want to major in mathematics, but I wanted to become a counselor.
ForeverU has taught me countless lessons over the year; too much to put in one small reflection. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that it is one hundred percent okay to struggle. When I first heard Ryan speak, I was ashamed to admit that I was hurting and that I was battling what I now know is called depression. ForeverU 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. I have learned how to be a better mentor. My first year at camp I had no idea what I was doing. I shared my story and figured that Ryan had me share to help but when I was 16, I was not listening to a random person share their life story. But they listened. I remember telling them that I will struggle with my depression forever and that is nothing to be ashamed of. After my story I spoke with a few of the students and one told me that my story saved their life. That day, those words gave my struggle purpose. I knew that I had a lot of work still to do, but the battles were worth it to become who I am today.
I will always be working on my mental health and now I see some of those students as alumni doing the exact same thing. ForeverU created a space where sharing your story and working on yourself is supported and appreciated. No matter what you have been through, the people in ForeverU are there to listen and fight with you. I learned that, the alumni from my first camp learned that, the current students are learning that, and we all deserve to have that support. I would not be alive without Ryan and the ForeverU community. And now because of this organization I have a strong support system I never imagined having. That is why you should get involved with ForeverU, because this organization does not let someone fight alone and these people will always have your back.
To those who believe in and financially support our mission, thank you for allowing me to learn and grow throughout these years. Thank you for letting me make mistakes and become a better person every day. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to live a life I am proud of. Thank you for allowing me to find my passion and my purpose in this world. Thank you for listening to my story.