CINCINNATI -- In February 2015, Tom and Diane Egbers experienced a parent's nightmare: They lost their 15-year-old son, Grant, to suicide. While working through their grief, the Egbers recognized a disconnect when it came to teen mental health care, and they vowed to do something about it.
A year after Grant's death, the Egberses launched a nonprofit bearing his name: Grant Us Hope. They set out with a mission to advance the awareness of teenage mental health issues and reduce the teen suicide rate by focusing on early intervention.
Grant Us Hope had its first fundraising gala last November, which enabled the Egberses to hire their first employee. They hosted the Walk for Hope on Friday at Friendship Park on the Banks.
Through helping other families in crisis since their own tragedy two years ago, the Egberses discovered that schools and local mental health providers don't have a natural connection with one another in most cases, which can be a barrier to getting continued support for vulnerable teenagers.
Diane Egbers, Grant's mother and the driving force behind Grant Us Hope, is partnering with organizations to cultivate coordination among the people who can offer a student help.
"So far, we have discovered 27 different groups in this region that are working in mental health for teenagers, but not all of them are working together," Egbers said. "All of them are doing good things but not having nearly the comprehensive and collaborative impact that we could have together, so we will be convening and encouraging all these organizations to collaborate."
Egbers has put together an executive board for Grant Us Hope that brings together leaders from Loveland and Mason schools, the charitable organization Greater Cincinnati Foundation and mental health care providers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and The Children's Home of Cincinnati.
"Diane seems very willing to go outside the box and work with some nontraditional partnerships," said John Banchy, CEO of The Children's Home of Cincinnati and a Grant Us Hope board member. "These are people that wouldn't always be in a room together. What I really like about what she is doing is that it feels different. She is trying to break down the barriers between one organization and another and ask, 'What can we do differently to improve our outcomes?' "
Egbers is founder and CEO of Leadership Excelleration Inc. which provides leadership development consultation. Through her company, she was already connected with most of the people and organizations that share her vision for Grant Us Hope -- something that Egbers believes was done by God's hand.
"There's no mistake in my view that the relationships we have and the skill set I have and the passion we have to help families and kids, all of that has come together," Egbers said. "Obviously, we wish we weren't on this path, but we feel the best way to honor Grant is to help as many kids in crisis as we can."
Egbers hopes to achieve the goals of Grant Us Hope by first building awareness methods to connect with students at school.
"We will run focus groups on what is the awareness message that really resonates with teens and how do we get past the stigma of mental health so that the kids who need it are willing to seek help," Egbers said.
She also plans to work with providers in the community to try and create a single, unified preventative mental health assessment to be used at Children's Hospital and all area high schools for expanded suicide prevention and better access to care.
The nonprofit has a long-term goal of obtaining legislative support to fund consistent mental health services in high schools throughout Ohio and beyond.
Mason High School is an example of a school that has programs in place that seek to thwart the rising numbers of teenage suicides -- programs Grant Us Hope will try to replicate at other area high schools.
Gail Kist-Kline, superintendent of Mason City Schools and a Grant Us Hope board member, recognizes the challenges in getting students connected to the right mental health care providers in a timely manner. In addition to school counselors, students at Mason High have access to therapists that come to the schools to provide therapy during the school day to ensure students are getting the care they need.
"Oftentimes, that is one of the barriers to care. Students go home and parents can't get them into a place or a therapist isn't even available," Kist-Kline said. "Some therapists have a waiting list that is 6 or 8 weeks. That is significant time for a child or youth in need."
Lebanon resident Allie Daumeyer, a senior at Mount Notre Dame High School in Reading, volunteered her time with Grant Us Hope as part of her senior capstone project. This wasn't just another school project; it was personal.
Daumeyer was a friend of Grant's when he was a St. Xavier student. She has since helped the Egberses coordinate a pair of student leaders at each of 10 local schools -- and growing -- to help plan events and act as ambassadors for Grant Us Hope's mission to spread awareness and eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health.
"I want to see a reduction in teen suicide rates and I want kids to know there is somewhere they can go to for support," Daumeyer said.
Daumeyer is heading off to college in the fall, but plans to remain a part of Grant Us Hope, to honor the friend she knew as "easy to talk to, really funny, a great spirit and just an amazing person to be around."
Egbers said she is willing to dedicate as much time as she can to make an impact in memory of her "loving, caring, sweet kid" and prevent other families from going through a similar loss.
"So many families have reached out to me that have teens in crisis and they don't know what to do next," Egbers said. "They have reached out to us because they are experiencing the same things. We are just responding to the need."