Early last spring, Jack Windeler, a first year student at Queen’s University, took his own life. The tragedy came as a horrible shock to Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington, who mourned the loss of their bright, beloved firstborn son.
After their loss, the Windelers vowed to help other young adults in the world overcome mental illness and depression.
During the eulogy, Windeler came forward and declared, “For Jack, we must let it be. But for others, we will not let it be.”
The Windelers made the courageous decision to respect Jack’s memory by trying to help as many others like him as they could.
In April of 2010, Eric founded the Jack Windeler Memorial Fund which raised $600,000 in its first few months of operation and, allied itself with the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Kids Help Phone.
“For me, it’s not about saving Canadian youth,” Hanington told Canadian Living. “This is about saving the next Jack, or the next girl. I’m a mother, and it’s one child at a time.”
The fund, which became known as “The Jack Project” in the fall of 2011, aims to reach out to Canadian youth to ensure that they maintain a stable state of mental wellness.
This year, Windeler is leading a pilot project in 12 postsecondary institutions and 22 high schools around Ontario that will evaluate the types of mental health programs available in the schools. If all goes well, the program will expand to 30 high schools and 30 post-secondary institutions next year.
Because mental illness frequently manifests itself in older teens, Windeler wants to promote awareness of symptoms to both teens and their parents. He wants Canadian Youth to be able to identify the signs of depression among themselves and their peers.
$300,000 of the money raised by The Jack Project will be going towards a new project for Kids Help Phone, where kids can talk to counsellors via internet-chat. By making help more accessible, the program hopes more youths will be willing to reach out for help.
“It is just another form of illness … and yet it is the most deadly to young people by far,” Wendeler remarked to the CBC. “It is part of the human condition and we have to learn to deal with it.”
October 2–8 is Mental Health Awareness Week, and October is Mental Health Awareness Month at U of T.