Congratulations to The Ryan Bartel Foundation for being finalists for Nonprofit of the Year! Post written by Founder Suzie Bartel. The livestream of the 26th Annual Loudoun Small Business Awards will premier Friday, November 13, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. on our Facebook Page. View all 2020 SBA Finalists here.
Tell us about your nonprofit, how it got started, and how it has evolved into what it is today.
The Ryan Bartel Foundation started 5 years ago, exactly one year after our oldest son Ryan died by suicide at the age of 17. In the months after his death, we received many visits from his friends, many of whom shared that they were struggling with depression and other issues and when we asked if they had talked to their parents about their struggles, the answer was always the same. “I can’t talk to my parents, they wouldn’t understand”, “they’re too busy” or “mental health is not discussed in my home”. Similar answers applied to their schools. When I asked who they then turn to, they said their friends. I had a strong urge at that point to change the conversation about mental health and suicide in order to remove the stigma and empower teens to comfortably have these conversations at home, at school and in their everyday life so that they could get the help they need if they were in a crisis.
This work started first at Ryan’s High School, resulting in a peer-led movement called We’re All Human. Students led school wide assemblies, walks and campaigns that were groundbreaking at the time. But one question still remained; what training could we give them so they feel better equipped to deal with life’s challenges? After doing some research I discovered Sources of Strength, an evidence led suicide prevention program that fit our philosophy perfectly; empowering teens with coping skills to build their resilience and enable them to help themselves, as well as their friends if they experience a mental health challenge. We funded and piloted the program ourselves in two high schools, then partnered with LCPS to bring it to as many schools as possible. Today, 27 middle and high schools now train and implement Sources of Strength annually.
Since then, we have expanded Sources of Strength training to both adults and teens in the Community at large, training parents, youth leaders, athletic teams and even businesses. We also started the FORT, a teen community space where teens could connect outside of school, and experience stress relieving workshops in different modalities that also built their coping skills. COVID-19 forced us all to go virtual, so we have since launched FORTitude, our online platform that includes Teen Meet ups to combat social isolation, virtual Sources of Strength training and parental panels where mental health experts provide parental tools and tips on dealing with teen challenges. We will be launching more virtual teen workshops soon to help them with the stresses of today’s environment.
What would it mean for you and your nonprofit to win a Small Business Award?
It would be such a huge honor as it would give us more credibility and make us better known in the community, helping us acquire more grants and donors so that we can expand our reach to help more teens. We provide our programs free of charge, so we rely on the community’s support for our existence. Our teens’ mental health has been on a decline for many years and has now reached an all-time low as a result of COVID. It’s imperative therefore that we provide access to our programs to as many teens as possible in order to prevent a mental health and suicide crisis.
What is the smallest thing that has made the biggest impact on your organization?
Teen involvement and honest feedback. Our programs are guided by the voice of the teen. Everything we do is the result of listening to their needs, gathered from the surveys they give us at the end of every program, in focus groups, as well as our Student Advisory Board.
Who is the one person that has influenced you the most in your career?
Indirectly my mother. She didn’t directly guide me during my career, but she set an example of enormous resilience and grit, no matter the circumstances that taught me to never give up and that with determination and hard work, you can work your way through anything.
What is your favorite thing about running your nonprofit in Loudoun County?
In spite of Loudoun’s enormous growth, our community is still small enough that you can have meaningful relationships with a lot of people, especially in the non-profit world.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An artist who painted and wrote. I ended up going into marketing because I recognized I couldn’t easily make a living as an artist.
What is a book that changed your life, and WHY?
Milan Kundera’s ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being’ because it’s a stark reminder that we only have one life to live.
When you’re not at your desk, where can we find you on the weekends/what is another passion you have?
Walking/hiking with our two dogs. Loudoun has such an abundance of beautiful trails and country roads and I need to connect with nature on a regular basis in order to feel grounded and at peace.
How do you see your nonprofit evolving in the next 5 years?
I think we will end up creating more new programs and expanding into new areas that can best serve teens’ needs. COVID is changing the way we live, work and play so we have to adapt accordingly by creating new ways of addressing teens’ problems. That challenge is exciting, and the possibilities are endless.
Congratulations again to the team at The Ryan Bartel Foundation, and thanks for the good work you do with kids in Loudoun. Check out their website here.