ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) The first Connecting with Community Awards finalist is unique partnership between a local business man, an area foundation, and some first time filmmakers.
Brothers Jeff Elhart and Wayne Elhart were owners together of Elhart Automotive Campus in Holland. Wayne had been struggling with depression for years when last March he died by suicide.
[He was] always a happy person, very positive in nature, but you just don’t know what happens to one’s mind when you’re dealing with this illness of depression, this internal illness,” Jeff said.
The Elhart family was devastated having known about his struggles with depression but they didn’t have all the tools to help.
On a family vacation to Florida to try to recover and cope with the tragedy, the Elhart family met another family going through the same struggle.
Husband and wife David and Christi Eaton experienced two separate incidents of death by depression and suicide. Feeling overwhelmed with feelings, they didn’t know exactly what to do next.
“It’s easy now to talk about addiction, but currently it’s not as easy to talk about mental health,” David said.
In efforts to start the conversation about mental health, depression and suicide, the Eatons decided to dive into filmmaking. Working as first time filmmakers, David and Christi surrounded themselves with experienced crews and producers to help craft the project to be a tool to start discussions around mental health.
The finished film called “Hope Bridge” starts “Twilight” actor BooBoo Stewart as Jackson, who is coping with a loss in his family and talks through his struggles with actor Kevin Sorbo, of “Hercules.”
Jeff Elhart connected with the Eatons at a local screening and discussion of “Hope Bridge” and decided to bring the film to West Michigan.
At his first screening of the film in Zeeland, Jeff meet another West Michigan mental health advocate in Christy Buck, the Executive Director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. After learning about “be nice.” and the simple tools it can provide, he became inspired to help spread the word even further.
The “be nice.” model is a tool for students and adults to become first responders to mental health struggles and illness. The N.I.C.E. stands for:
- Notice what is different
- Invite yourself to step in and be involved
- Challenge the stigmas we have
- Empower others and yourself
It’s really is up to the loved ones, family members the people who are closest to them to see those signs of depression,” said Jeff Elhart. “We need to take this awareness initiative of depression and not sweep it under the rug anymore.”
That’s why the partnership between Elhart Automotive, the producers of “Hope Bridge,” and the Mental Health Foundation is such a good team. They all want to build awareness and get people talking about the issue we don’t usually discuss, our own mental health.
Since the partnership started, there have been 25 showings and discussions of “Hope Bridge” around West Michigan, nearing 10,000 people who have been in attendance.
Bri Mulder attended one the showings of the movie at her school. She has had her own struggle with depression and in the past has had thoughts of suicide.
“The film really spoke to a lot of us at our school,” she said. “It hit home since our school has seen teens die by suicide.”
More than 26,000 students are now enrolled in the “be nice.” educational campaign. In an effort to expand its campaign in West Michigan, The Wayne Elhart Be Nice Memorial Fund offered a match in funding to bring the be nice. program to the students of Ottawa County.
“be nice.” and mental health is not just in the schools. Now more than 7,000 employees at area businesses are also enrolled in the program. Jeff has even higher hopes for this partnership. He hopes that within a year this program can receive national recognition.
The Elhart Automotive, “Hope Bridge” and Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan partnership is just the first of eight Connecting with Community Awards finalists. Continue to watch 24 Hour News 8 Fridays at 5 p.m. or eightWest at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays to see the next story.