Truckee mom uses son’s memorial fund to support mental health awareness | SierraSun.com

Truckee mom uses son’s memorial fund to support mental health awareness

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

TRUCKEE, Calif. — With her son's memory on her mind and forever in her heart, one local mother is working hard to continue his legacy of helping others.

"He was very compassionate, sensitive, loving," said Truckee resident Diana Bell-Curtis, about her son, Robert Clayton McDonnell Jr. "He was always there to help a friend; he was always there to help an elder. He was just always there to help others.

"I think what he's doing is guiding me. He's helping me to keep his legacy alive."

Launched in July 2013, Clay's Fund — which stands for Compassion, Love, Awareness and Your life matters — aims to bring awareness to mental health and teach people that we all exist for a reason.

“I think what he’s doing is guiding me. He’s helping me to keep his legacy alive.”Diana Bell-Curtis

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The fund's goal stems from Clayton taking his own life on Jan. 27, 2013, two days after his 23rd birthday.

"It was like Groundhog Day, every day," Bell-Curtis recalled after the loss of her son. "I wake up, same thing, wake up, same thing. I felt like I was in Twilight Zone. Like why did this happen? Why didn't I see it? And then the hurt of his pain because he truly loved life."

BREAKING THE STIGMA

Clayton was born and raised in Truckee, attending Glenshire Elementary, Alder Creek Middle and Truckee High schools. Among the many activities he enjoyed were fishing, baseball and music, his mother said.

After his passing, his family received many community donations, which provided the initial funding for Clay's Fund, with fundraisers replenishing the account.

The latest fundraiser for Clay's Fund will occur Saturday at the regional park, featuring live music from local bands such as the Bandits — a group Clayton started — and Flip the Record; a silent audition; a raffle; local artisans; and various food vendors.

All proceeds will benefit Clay's Fund, which provides scholarships to Truckee/North Tahoe students and financial aid for those unable to afford mental health assistance.

"Our goals with this event are to bring the community together, have more community awareness of mental health issues and basically to party in Clay's name — enjoy some music, hang out in the park and enjoy each other's company," said Allison Smith, fundraising consultant at CHARITYSMITH, the nonprofit under which Clay's Fund exists.

At the fundraiser, volunteers with the Tahoe Truckee Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition and local chaplains will be present, educating attendees on recognizing the warning signs of suicide.

"People are not OK discussing it because there is such a stigma around it," Smith said. "We want to break the stigma of suicide. We want to make sure people understand that it is something that everybody should be talking about."

'A NEED FOR MORE AWARENESS'

With multiple suicides occurring in the Truckee/North Tahoe region the past few years, Bell-Curtis said she thinks the community is more receptive to having a conversation around the topic.

"Ultimately, I think the community is realizing that there is a need for more awareness and education, just in the aspect of it's hit so many times and it's taken such a range of people — young to old," said Smith, echoing Bell-Curtis' sentiment. "There is no age. It can be anybody and everybody, and the community has been shaken so many times by this topic that I think people are willing to listen, and people are realizing that it is something that maybe they should educate themselves on a little bit."

It was Clay's death that promoted Bell-Curtis to get involved with then-newly formed Tahoe Truckee Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, a task force that aims at providing education and implementation strategies to mobilize the community to support young people in an effort prevent future suicides.

"That's when I started to jump in and truly educating myself because I could be at home, crying half my life, or educating myself and helping others," Bell-Curtis said.

She chose the latter, with the fund's website providing resources to help those struggling so they can seek help, and in turn, save a valuable life.

"The bottom line is that I don't want people to forget (Clayton) because he was an incredible young man full of life, and I don't want this to happen to anyone else," Bell-Curtis said.

If you go

What: Concert for Clay

Where: “Salty” Gebhart Amphitheater, Truckee River Regional Park, 10050 Brockway Road

When: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday, June 27

More info: charitysmith.org/memorial-funds/clays-fund

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If you need help

According to local mental health experts, if you or someone you know are thinking of committing suicide or hurting someone, please take the following steps:

First, make sure the person knows he or she can reach out and talk about their problems with someone he or she can trust. As you do so, try to find out the level of intention from the person. When people experience these types of thoughts, they can often feel helpless and need empathy, support or just help to connect them with someone they can trust.

If you think the person might be serious, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you’re a family member or worried about a family friend, it is OK to call 911 or the authorities.

If you want to keep the matter private, here are some hotlines:

Nevada County Crisis line: 530-265-5811

Placer County Crisis line: 916-787-8860

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK / 800-273-8255

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Know the signs

We all hold the skills to become helpers. The Know the Signs campaign is designed to give each of us the confidence and realization that we are able to help in times of need and are able to recognize the warning signs of suicide.

Visit suicideispreventable.org to learn more, and reach out to Sarah McClarie, facilitator for the Tahoe Truckee Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition, at smcclarie@ttusd.org to schedule a Know the Signs training.