OUR MISSION STATEMENT
We are the voice for those who feel they don’t have one.
We believe the power of compassion, connection, and hope will aid in the creation of bonds that will empower those we serve to build trust, overcome challenges, and create pathways to perseverance.
We aim for a unifying approach on prioritizing mental health, delivering education, and eradicating cultural stigmas.
We strive to prevent suicide by eliminating access barriers to care, facilitating mentorship programs, and connecting our clients to a comprehensive offering of support groups through our community partners – and providing graceful postvention support accepting those on their path to resilience.
Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refer to a wide range of mental health conditions - disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictive behaviors.
In 2018, words like mental illness, depression, and suicide were unfamiliar to me but became very real when my son Zachary Ryan Birkholz took his own life at only 14 years old.
Up to that point in my life, I hadn't heard these topics talked about very often so I had to take a good look at what went wrong and what I found, is that suicide, is often a result of an untreated mental illness and it is preventable.
I also found that mental illness is a taboo topic amongst people and it is rarely talked about, it has a stigma that makes people ashamed of reaching out for fear of being looked at as "crazy" or "unfit" - as a society, we have given mental illness a negative reputation of weakness and something that you should keep to yourself.
I quickly learned that our nation lacks mental health resources for the youth and it is time that we break the stigma and drive change for the youth in our community to encourage them to break the stigma and stay alive- Thus the birth of Marshmallow's HOPE.
Marshmallow's HOPE is a personal mission and Zachary's memory is our driving force! He should still be here, however, we believe that by us sharing our family's tragic story, we can help other Zachary's in the world who may be suffering in silence know that it's okay to not be okay, and that they matter! We are here to support the youth in our communities as well as other suicide survivor families.
It takes a village to fight this fight, but my promise to you and to my son, is that I won't stop fighting for these kids to stay alive. I won't stop fighting for the many mother's who are missing their children. I won't stop fighting for the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. Event if our story helps save one more life, I will continue to help aid those who need it.
Through Marshmallow's HOPE, I will be the voice of the many Zachary's in the world.
Founder and Executive Director
Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refer to a wide range of mental health conditions -disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictive behaviors.
In 2018, words like mental illness, depression, and suicide were unfamiliar to me but became very real when my son, Zachary Ryan Birkholz, ended his own life at only 14-years old.
Up to that point in my life, I hadn't heard these topics talked about very often so I had to take a good look at what went wrong, and what I found, is that suicide is often a result of an untreated mental illness and it is preventable. Mental illness is a taboo topic amongst people and it is rarely talked about. It has a stigma that makes people ashamed of reaching out for fear of being looked at as "crazy" or "unfit"- as a society, we have given mental illness a negative reputation of weakness and something that you should keep to yourself.
Our nation lacks mental health resources for the youth and it is time that we step up for the future leaders of America and break the stigma! We need to come together to drive change for the youth in our community to encourage them to break the stigma and stay alive- Thus the birth of Marshmallow's HOPE.
Marshmallow's HOPE is a personal mission and Zachary's memory is our driving force! He should still be here. We believe that by us sharing our family's tragic story, we can help other Zachary's in the world who may be suffering in silence. We want them to know that it's okay to not be okay, and that they matter! We are here to support the youth in our communities, as well as servicemembers, veterans, first-responders, and suicide survivor families. All in efforts of suicide prevention.
It takes a village to fight this fight, but my promise to you and to my son, is that I won't stop fighting for the Zachary's of the world (ZOW)! I won't stop fighting for the many mothers who are missing their children. I won't stop fighting for the prioritization of mental health and suicide prevention. Even if our story helps save just one more life, then it is all worth it...just one more!
Through Marshmallow's HOPE, I will be the voice for the ZOWs.
Founder and Executive Director
HERO mentor program Services
*youth crisis peer support 24/7 for kids 9-19 living with mental/emotional illnesses, suicidal ideations, and victims of child abuse
*one-on-one mentorship and probono counseling for youth 9-19 living with mental/emotional illnesses, victims of child abuse
*confidential probono counseling services for first-responders, veterans, and service-members
*one-on-one parent/guardian support
*Confidential probono bereavement and grief counseling services
* Youth Group therapy
HERO MENTOR PROGRAM
Our HERO mentor program focuses on the future leaders of America-our children, teens, and young adults who have been abused, bullied, have endured trauma, are living with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-harm, and suicidal ideations.
Our program vision is a one-on-one mentorship program where we pair the Zachary's of the World (ZOWs) with a HERO mentor. But what if we told you that our HERO mentors would look something like the people in the pictures below?
Through our HERO mentor program, we want to help not only the youth, but also our military service-members, veterans, law enforcement, and first responders. We know that these adult populations can also be at risk of suicide, and are unlikely to reach out due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Our program is designed to give our HERO mentors a "protective factor." A protective factor is a condition or attribute that helps mitigate the risk of suicide; it is something that keeps someone who is living in the darkness a reason to stay alive and not end their life by suicide.
By linking a HERO with a ZOW we are giving people tools to build positive relationships, hope, and encouragement. Spending quality time together participating in enriching activities such as bowling, grabbing lunch, hiking, fishing, playing disc golf etc...they will build a relationship that will positively impact each other's lives! It's a purposeful mission for our HEROs, and a way to support a ZOW.
Our program's mission is to
Help those who may be struggling, both HERO and ZOW by offering them support
Encourage them to set attainable goals toward bettering their mental health.
Reach those goals by providing them with probono professional mental health services, and
Overcome their pain in efforts to prevent suicide.
Our efforts through our HERO mentor program are to help prevent service-member, veteran, first responder, and youth suicide. This is not "just" a mentorship program, it is a combination of mentorship and therapy to help the Zachary's of the World. We know that a HERO + ZOW= RESILIENCE
**First Responders, Servicemembers, Veterans, and Civilian mentors are encouraged to apply to become a HERO. All HERO mentor applicants must undergo and pass a criminal background check to ensure the safety of the participants of our program. All mentors are expected to take a resilience training offered by our organization in partnership with The Hope For Us Network prior to being paired with a ZOW.
All mentors must commit a minimum of 6 months to the program unless being deployed.
→ According to the CDC,1 youth suicide is one of the three leading causes of death and is the second leading cause of death for all youth nation-wide aged 10-19 years old. Mentorship for youth is a well-studied and documented strategy that can be a life-shifting intervention at pivotal times in the development of their psychological health.
→ According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry2 Based on 55 studies of mentoring programs, there is a benefit of program participation for youth, with at-risk youth being most likely to benefit.
● 59 percent of mentored teenagers earn better grades
● 27 percent of mentored youth are less likely to begin using alcohol
● 52 percent of mentored youth are less likely to skip school
● Youth with mentors have an increased likelihood of going to college, better attitudes toward school, increased social and emotional development, and improved self-esteem.
The strongest program benefit of mentorship: Exhibited in 55 independent studies across diverse groups of at risk youths was a direct reduction in depressive symptoms.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/.
2 DuBois,, David, et al. “Youth Initiated Mentoring: A Meta-Analytic Study of a Hybrid Approach to Youth Mentoring.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, vol. 50, no. 2, 2020, pp. 219–230., doi:10.1007/s10964-020-01336-5.
3 DuBois,, David, et al. “Youth Initiated Mentoring: A Meta-Analytic Study of a Hybrid Approach to Youth Mentoring.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence
Our HERO mentorship program combines one-on-one mentorship with clinical therapy to build resilience in effort of suicide prevention!
know the signs
If you notice any of these signs in someone you know, PLEASE take action immediately!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255 or text 741741
Withdrawn- from friends and family. Isolating in their bedroom and not doing the activities they normally enjoy.
Changes in Sleep- they sleep more or are restless
Reckless Behavior- they act in ways that could be dangerous and seem careless about consequences
Personality Change-they behave aggressively, or become easily angered or irritated by others
Substance abuse- drinking alcohol or using other drugs
Physical Pain- they complain about physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches
Seem careless about personal appearance- neglect hygiene, personal appearance, or even basic grooming
Loss of Interest- they no longer want to do things they once enjoyed
Sudden mood change- suddenly happy after a period of sadness
Giving away belongings- they give away favorite possessions or throw them away
Posting comments on social media such as "someone talk to me before I kill myself" "I'm nothing but a burden" "I just want to die"
Talking about feeling hopeless, wanting to die, being a burden to others, or self harming (cutting, searching online for things like ways to die) - it's time to call for help 1-800-273-8255 or 911 - seek immediate help, do NOT leave the person alone, take them to the nearest emergency room, if you're concerned about your own safety please call 911
"Sadly for me, I missed the warning signs and lost my 14 year old son Zachary to suicide on September 16, 2018. This is what I can tell you; If your friend or family member is constantly telling people they are depressed, don't brush it off as a phase or take it lightly. Ignoring them would be like coming upon someone treading water, saying they were about to drown. Sure, they may seem like they are treading water fine at the moment, but eventually they will tire of the struggle and drown. Don't let that happen! Don't ignore them. If you don't know where the lifesaver is located so you can throw it to them, find someone who does. Meaning, if you aren't sure how to help them, reach out to people who can. Seek out the assistance of a parent, a school counselor, a family counselor, or anybody you trust. Depression is not a normal feeling that will simply go away like hunger pains. Often times, there are reasons why a person is feeling depressed. Counseling can help people get to the root cause of why they are feeling this way.
Others experience depression because of imbalances in their body. Taking anti-depressants can help them. Having to take medication does not make someone weak or inadequate, it simply means that something is off inside their body and they need help to rebalance it. The bigger thing of all is to surround them with people and instill hope. People don't just wake up and decide to die by suicide, they have reached the point of hopelessness. There are often many little signs that go unnoticed. Mood swings, or isolation can be signs that something is wrong. I dismissed my son Zachary's mood swings as a result of puberty. While I don't want you to think that every moody teen is suicidal, I do want you to take notice of when and why they are experiencing these mood swings. Drug use and self-harm, or cutting, are often used to mask the pain that is being felt. If someone you know starts using drugs or harming themselves, do not overlook these things. There is something else lurking just below the surface, something that they are struggling with. If you're the one struggling, please know that you never have to suffer in this pain alone. There are people that love you. There is help! People DO CARE in spite of what your mind is telling you. I'll say it again, YOU ARE LOVED! Please, please talk about it. Don't go through this darkness alone. Please find hope in knowing that the pain you're feeling will become manageable, and you can live out a full life!" - Laura
SUICIDE SURVIVOR SUPPORT
Lost a loved one to suicide? Although our primary focus is to help prevent this from happening, we are here to offer you support. Our founder lost her son to suicide and we understand your pain and know the lifelong journey you're on. We have your back. Please contact us, we are truly sorry for your loss, we are here to support you!
*postvention services available to survivors
Other services we offer:
-Customized HERO mentor resilience training
-free membership to all our HERO AND ZOWs to Anderson Japanese Gardens
-Community Education & Outreach
-Middle School & High School Suicide prevention assemblies and presentations
-One-on-one parent and family support to our HERO families
-free community give back events
-Holiday give back to our HERO families Holiday food and gifts
-resources to promote self-esteem for our ZOWs (haircuts, clothing, dental braces and more!)
-referrals to support groups for families, youth, veterans, and adults living with mental illness through our community partner NAMI Northern Illinois
*Working to provide innovative technologies for suicide prevention- to be announced soon!
Get in touch with Marshmallow's Hope!
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