News Article Details

Family sets out to raise funds, awareness for mental health

The Winchester Star - 2/24/2017

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — When John T. and Cathy Ballard’s teenage son John David Ballard passed away on Jan. 21 following a two-year battle with depression, it became clear to the Winchester couple how important the subject of mental health among teens is. They also realized how few resources are available to local teens.

John David, a 15-year-old freshman at Handley High School, struggled for years with depression, his mother said. In December, he was taken to an inpatient facility in Richmond for help. This was the closest facility to Winchester equipped to deal with child and teen mental health, but it was too far from friends and family, she said. There is a facility in Winchester, but it’s only for adults.

“The most heartbreaking thing he [John David] said to me while he was in the hospital was how much he wished his friends could come visit him,” Cathy Ballard said. “But, they couldn’t make the drive all the way to Richmond.”

The Ballards were fortunate — they had family in the Richmond area to support them while John David was getting help. Many families aren’t as fortunate and must stay in hotels or travel back and forth on a daily basis. In some cases, if both parents work and there are other children at home, parents may not be able to make the drive to visit their child at all during the week.

Though the Ballards are still dealing with the recent loss of their son, they are working to turn their heartache into something positive.

John David’s uncle set up a GoFundMe.com account, the JD Ballard Teen Health Fund, to raise funds for the mental health needs of children and adolescents in the Shenandoah Valley.

A fundraiser for the cause also will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Bright Box Theater, 15 N. Loudoun St., Winchester. Phil Zuckerman, a music teacher and founder of the Winchester guitar studio The Rock Room, is hosting a concert in honor of John David, who was one of his guitar students.

Cathy Ballard plans to say a few words about her son, and several bands will perform.

“These kids [who will be performing] are going to be rock stars. They are so talented,” Ballard said. “Come out not only to support this cause, but to be able to say you saw the next Tina Turner before she made it big.”

The event is free to attend, but donations will be collected and given to the JD Ballard Teen Mental Health Fund.

The Ballards are still trying to figure out how best to use the funds, but a long-term goal is to provide support for an inpatient mental health facility for children and adolescents in the area.

Other ideas the family had:

Help staff the facility

Help provide support and resources for schools to identify and help children who are struggling

Provide support to children after a tragedy, such as the loss of a classmate

“We need to bring experts to this area who know how to talk to teens,” Ballard said. “Teens think differently than adults; they can’t see the big picture. All they can see is the pain and hurt they are feeling right now, and they can’t imagine it ever getting any better. We need people who are trained and can help children and teens with these feelings.”

Within just a few weeks, more than $20,000 has been raised for the JD Ballard Teen Mental Health Fund. The money was recently transferred from the GoFundMe account to a fund under the auspices of the Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley (CFNSV).

“We have received several large donations, which we are very grateful for,” Ballard said. “But the ones that really pull at my heartstrings are the $10, $15 or $20 ones that are from students. These are young people who are donating their gas money or their money to go out with friends. But they have been touched by the story of John David because he was close to their age. Some of them may have even known him.”

Ballard said GoFundMe was a great way to start raising funds in a short time, but the CFNSV fund will be better in the long term because donors will not have to pay the fee associated with the GoFundMe site, and the family will still be able to control how the donated funds are used. It also is easier for companies or organizations to give matching donations through the foundation’s website, Ballard said. A few people have reached out and expressed interest in providing a matching donation. Donations through CFNSV.org are tax-deductible.

John David’s family, which includes three sisters, is extremely pleased with the amount that has been raised so far and the generosity of the community. Originally, the goal was to raise $25,000, but Ballard said that was sort of a random number they chose. She ultimately hopes to raise $100,000.

“People have asked me why I don’t just give the money to a national mental health organization,” Ballard said. “I just feel like we need to start in our own community. We need to provide these resources right here for our children.”

One of the biggest struggles in regard to teen mental health, she said, is that it’s not talked about. So much emphasis is placed on the physical health of children and teens, but mental health is often overlooked. That is something Ballard would like to work to change.

“When your child breaks a bone, you can see the break and understand their pain, and we know how to help them,” Ballard said. “But, when a child is depressed, we can’t see that and don’t know how to help. We need to learn how to fix depression just as we can fix a broken bone.”

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Donations for the JD Ballard Teen Mental Health Fund will be collected at Sunday’s concert, or they may be made at http://cfnsv.org/w-funds/j-d-ballard-teen-mental-health-fund/.

— Contact Julia Kazar at jkazar@winchesterstar.com

 
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