STATE COLLEGE — It is still pretty difficult for Kathy Hill to talk about her cousin George. It was just last August that her family lost him after he took his own life — and it still hurts. But she is talking and telling his story because she wants to help other people who might be struggling with mental health issues and thinking about suicide.
“George, like many others, suffered from depression and anxiety, but he was successful in managing his mental health issues for many years,” said Hill. “Over a series of months, a physical illness complicated his condition, and he ultimately decided to end his life. In October, family and friends were able to gather together to honor George’s life, share stories and love each other through the pain of our loss.”
So now Hill is doing something, with George in mind, to help make sure people in her home community have the resources they need during times of crisis.
With the approval of her aunt and uncle, she is “jumpin’ for George.”
“They (her aunt and uncle) wish to be having more open conversation about mental health issues, suicide and where people can go to get help,” said Hill. “So what better way to shout it out than by jumping out of a plane and saying ‘this is what is needed.’”
And that is what she is doing when she joins 20 other people on May 16 in taking a giant leap in support of Centre Helps. Specifically, she will be skydiving in the name of suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
Dubbed, “Centre Helps Has Your Back,” the event will take place at Skydive Happy Valley at the Mifflin County Airport. The event is designed to promote awareness and raise money for Centre Helps.
Centre Helps is a local nonprofit that serves Centre County with an emotional support, crisis intervention and information and referral hotline (814) 237-5855 or
(800) 273-TALK. Last year, Centre Helps fielded 9,000 calls from people in need.
Executive Director Leanne Lenz said, “Centre Helps has been making a positive impact on this community for decades, but what better way to bring attention to often marginalized issues like suicide and mental health than having supporters drop 10,000 feet out of an airplane? Our organization works with these people every day and we know first-hand how important providing these resources is to our community.”
Hill and the other participants are working hard to raise money for their jump as each participant is working toward a $2,400 fundraising goal. The number 24 is important because Centre Helps offers assistance 24 hours a day. If you would like to jump, contact Lenz as there are still a limited number of spots available.
To be a sponsor or make a contribution to the event, go to FundRazr.com/CentreHelps.
Centre Helps got its start in the early 1970s as a 24-hour hotline to support individuals struggling with drug-related issues. After almost 50 years it has continued to provide the hotline and recently upped its game and partnered with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Additionally, it serves as Centre County’s information and referral line.
While Hill is a little nervous about jumping, she is going to power through with the help of her cousin, fellow fundraiser Jessica Dolan; however, she said she is pretty excited to jump out of plane.
“Honestly, I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie,” said Dolan, who’s Room To Breathe organizing and staging company works to help people find order in their lives so they have “room to breathe.”
“When the chance presented itself to not only do something great for our community, but also fill my desire for a rush, I couldn’t resist. It’s an extra feel good. Plus, in my business, I work with a majority of clients who suffer mild to severe mental health issues, as well as histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse so to give back in some way seems right,” she said.
Dolan said she remembers witnessing the devastating effects mental illness or instability can have on quality of life, financial resources, relationships with family and friends and overall well-being and success in life.
“Last year at about this time, just before Christmas, I showed up to a client’s home and I knew the moment she cracked the door that something was horribly wrong. She didn’t want to let me in for our regularly scheduled session. I told her that we didn’t need to work, but we did need to sit down and chat. In those moments that followed, she shared that she was having thoughts of doing harm to herself and I was really at a loss as to how to handle it. I have a strict confidentiality policy in my business and while I felt like I should call someone, I also felt that would be a huge violation of her privacy. We sat and talked for more than two hours and at the end I felt that she was ultimately okay and just needed extra love and support that day,” said Dolan “But I still, to this day, think ‘What if I hadn’t shown up?’”
She hopes that by jumping she can help people realize that resources like Centre Helps are available in the community. Before he delved in the education field, Spring Creek Elementary School Principal Todd Dishong spent time as a mental health professional in Huntingdon and Blair counties, and those experiences help him understand the importance of Centre Helps. That is why he is raising money to jump.
“After hearing more about Centre Helps and my personal background of working in the drug/alcohol and mental health field, I was more than happy to say ‘yes,’” said Dishong. “I personally used to work in the Altoona Crisis Center at the hospital so I did mental health intensive case management. I was in the drug and alcohol field for a few years before I got into education, so I’ve been close to that kind of thing. I know from these prior work experiences and through some of my own family situations the importance a service like Centre Helps to provide that type of assistance. Some people need someone to talk with whether it is in the middle of the night or whenever. It is valuable and important that we have a service like this. Some people just have nowhere else to go sometimes.”
He said that while working at the crisis center, he felt good being there to help people.
“All the people we pass by on a day-to-day basis, do we really know the battles and struggles that they are going through?” asked Dishong.
He said he hopes all the students at Spring Creek recognize and take to heart that people’s emotional health is important.
“We are teaching kids what empathy is and why that is important,” said Dishong. “Just being understanding and aware of people’s circumstances and being aware that sometimes before we react to someone or make judgments, we don’t know the whole story. So that is something that we will tie in with the kids.”
Dishong said he is excited to jump out of the plane. He served in the U.S. Army, but said he never did any parachuting, so this will be a first for him. But more than anything, he is glad to help people who need it.
“Really, while I think it is going to be fun and a great experience, that is really like the icing on the cake,” said Dishong. “Because really, what it is about is Centre Helps and the services they are providing. Hopefully this helps shed some light on it.”