ConnerStrong Foundation (CSF), a 501(c)3 organization in Alexandria Va. founded in 2017, works to bring awareness to mental health issues and suicide prevention and to change the discussion about mental health, especially in our teens and young adults. The foundation also provides outreach and comfort to the families and communities affected by mental health and suicide.
In the fall of 2018, CSF held an in-person training session about youth mental health and suicide prevention. This training, “Becoming A Trusted Adult,” is the same training offered on the foundation web site and was developed by a team of licensed social workers, professional counselors, clinical alcohol & drug counselors, and certified psychiatric rehabilitation practitioners from The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (NJ).
The training “Becoming A Trusted Adult,” one of the first efforts of ConnerStrong Foundation, took place at Fairfax High School, where a facilitator worked with 55 adults to broaden their knowledge of how to handle the mental health issues facing today’s kids. The training was offered to youth coaches, youth leaders, parents and teachers.
Knowing that teachers, youth leaders and coaches spend a substantial amount of time with our children, and can become a key influencer in their lives, the foundation felt it was critical to provide some training and change the mindset about youth mental health.
Marc Dolphin, president of Central Springfield Little League (CSLL) in Northern Virginia, attended the training provided by ConnerStrong Foundation as a show of support for Tom and Mindi Worosz, and their son Jack. Tom and Mindi began CSF in honor of their son, Conner, whom they lost to suicide in 2016. Marc had been Jack’s baseball coach and was very fond of the family.
Marc left the event stunned by the prevalence of youth suicide, and as the president of Central Springfield Little League, he recognized he had 400 kids that were at risk, and he decided that youth suicide prevention needed to become a part of his league’s safety plan. Marc chose to do what so many people find difficult to do when it comes to mental health and suicide; he started talking about it and listening to the reactions and discussions that ensued. He started making the topic a part of his coaches and parent orientation, warning that it was a tough, but crucial subject. He explained how suicide had impacted his community, shared the mission of ConnerStrong Foundation, and provided resources to help parents and kids. Parents responded, grateful for his honesty and efforts.
Other little leagues were taken aback, the discussion of youth suicide not being a common one in the little league circle, but Marc wouldn’t shy away from the critical subject. He had broken the stigma of the issue for families involved in Central Springfield Little League, and soon made suicide prevention a cornerstone of his league’s safety plan.
Each year, every little league in America is required to submit an Annual Safety Awareness Plan (ASAP) to the national organization. Little League International oversees 6,500 communities across 80 countries and has over 2 million children involved. In 2018, Central Springfield Little League included suicide prevention in their official safety plan proposal, which won CSLL a runner up spot in the Southeast Region for the best Safety Awareness Plan.
In 2020, CSLL again submitted their safety plan proposal including both COVID-19 containment and youth suicide prevention. This proposed plan recognized for its approach and completeness and CSLL won both the Southeastern Region and was named the National Little League ASAP Award Winner, covering all of North America. As part of the recognition by Little League International, CSLL was awarded a Musco Light Structure Green™ lighting system for a 200-foot field.
Marc considers a fabulous new lighting system to be a fitting reward for an organization that took a risk to shed light upon an often taboo topic, but for Marc, working with ConnerStrong Foundation to decrease the epidemic of youth suicide, it isn’t about winning a prize. “I have told other leagues how important this issue is, but that if you’re going to include it, it can’t just be a talking point, you have to mean it. You have to walk the talk. This isn’t something we put into our plan in order to get a prize, we really do care about the issue, and it’s right at the front of our plan.” Marc Dolphin’s term as the president for Central Springfield Little League comes to an end in September 2020, but his commitment to working with ConnerStrong Foundation and to prevent suicide will remain. “I’ve learned how to talk about it,” says Marc. “Learning how to discuss it with my son in a way that destigmatizes it and makes it not scary, and maybe those talks, well, he’ll take them and carry them to his friends, spread the word, you know, keep it the discussions going.”
Tom Worosz, President of ConnerStrong Foundation is happy to see such results. Although he mourns the loss of his son every day, he is grateful to see leaders in the community stand up and work to make a difference. “I talk about mental health and suicide prevention every day. It hurts, but I know Conner is looking down on us and is proud of the work we are doing. I don’t want any family to ever go through our pain. Efforts like those enacted by Marc and Central Springfield Little League will make a difference. If we get through to just one adult or one child, our efforts are not in vain.” Tom hopes more people, youth organizations and corporations will step up and join them in their #DontEndYourStory campaign. “No one cringes or fears talking about physical health. Building healthy coping skills and positive protective measures for a healthy mind is just as important as the rest of our bodies. Being healthy in all aspects should not stigmatized.”
Central Springfield Little League’s partnership with ConnerStrong Foundation is proof that by combining our efforts, we can make a huge difference in our community. Together we can have difficult conversations and tackle the mental health issues and everyday stressors, that far too often, end in our children choosing to end their own lives.
Both Central Springfield Little League and ConnerStrong Foundation hope that this partnership can be a catalyst to other youth organizations and spur them to implement changes, reach out and get the training and truly make a positive impact in our children’s lives. Every adult that interacts with children should strive to “Become A Trusted Adult”.
President (until 9/2020)
Central Springfield Little League