Dedicated to combating teen suicide, the Rock Life Campaign started by Juli and Mitch Richmond of Agoura Hills is kicking off its mission at the 2nd Annual Hilton Homewood Suites Holiday Tree-Lighting ceremony Friday at 5 p.m.
“Mitch wanted to unify the community during the holidays,” said Mitch’s managing partner, who goes by X. “Of course, that’s when families mourn the most.”
At least five local families will be grieving for children who all died within the past year-and-a-half in what some have called an epidemic of suicide and depression among teens at Agoura Hills and Calabasas high schools. To commemorate the young lives lost, Mitch will place a star on the top of a tree he donated to the free community event.
Lending his support to the ceremony is Eric Kramer, the ex-NFL player whose son Griffen Kramer, an 18-year-old quarterback from Thousand Oaks High School, died tragically after injecting heroin with friends last year.
“We’ve partnered with his dad and he’s going to be there,” Mitch said. “We got on the phone and talked, and he understood what we’re trying to do. He was so excited, he wanted to help.”
A mere concept only a few months ago, the campaign is quickly galvanizing a coalition of students, parents, local businesses and organizations. Menchies, The Habit and Homewood Suites have all partnered with Rock Life, as well as the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center, which is hosting the campaign’s wellness programs starting mid-January.
The multifaceted, hands-on approach includes self-esteem coach Valerie Sheppard’s "Happy to Be Me" classes, “red-carpet” testimonials, private confession booths, volunteer licensed therapists, basketball clinics and monthly “Entertainment Therapy” events which will incorporate music, comedy and more into an interactive experience for the young adults.
“We might have an artist like Rihanna or Justin Bieber,” X said. “Talent is coming.... We’re working on the inside out instead of the outside in and trying to get them through creativity.”
“I know when I was playing sports or happy or feeling good or bad or needed inspiration, I would listen to music,” Mitch said. “It’s a big part of what we want to do.”
The campaign also has a thriving Rock Life Youth Board, which, along with other volunteers, met recently to decorate ornaments for the upcoming tree-lighting ceremony. They are also responsible for getting Rock Life up and running on Facebook and Twitter.
Additionally, they've been very busy reaching out to students and sharing the issues facing them today, such as cyber bullying, eating disorders, cutting and the rising use of heroin.
"The cutting is a form of self-mutilation," said Juli. "They're not feeling good about themselves and we want kids to be "Happy to Be Me"... to rock life in whatever way they can, and embrace themselves."
“One thing we’re trying to do is make somewhere for the kids to go to address what’s going on in their lives ... somewhere they can talk and where someone will listen,” said Mitch. “And at the end of the day, we want to educate the parents.”
Although the Richmonds became of aware of the issue of suicide after a young girl shared the loss of two of her friends in Calabasas with them, they didn’t realize their three sons were touched by the disturbing trend. Their youngest, who is middle school, divulged that one of his own friends had attempted suicide.
“We got involved and started talking to them and it gave us a better understanding of what was going on," said Juli. "This is helping us as parents, too, and it's something we need to address."
By creating a dialogue with the community, Mitch and Juli hope to give a voice to a problem that often goes unmentioned.
“It’s not just raising awareness but also taking action,” said Annemarie Laherty, executive director of the AHCCC. “We’re just trying to get the word out there to let people know what the program is all about so that we’re successful in reaching out to the community.”
To learn more about Rock Life, click here.