Over the past six years, Johns Creek, GA has found itself host to the nonprofit Will to Live Foundation, Inc. This 501(c)(3) organization was formed by the Trautwein family of Johns Creek after the suicide death of their son Will in October of 2010. Will, was a freshman at Northview High School at the time, and the suicide of this big, strong, popular, smart, athletic, and musically talented young man rocked this community.
'All of us were stunned when Will died" says co-founder and President of Will To Live John Trautwein. "Not only was my family absolutely stunned and oblivious that Will was struggling in any way shape or form, so were all of his friends." Trautwein soon learned that his son's death was not the exception but the norm when it came to teenage suicide, and even more alarming to learn, Will Trautwein was one of millions of teenagers in America losing the will to live.
Every two hours in America a teenager takes his or her life. That is a statistic that the Trautwein family wish they would have known. "Had we known that Will's situation was common, maybe we would have looked for it - maybe we would have asked more questions, maybe we would have listened harder. The fact of the matter is we were clueless, if someone would have said to me 'your son Will is struggling', I would have been insulted and told them to mind their own business - 'my boy is fine - my boy is great - look at him' - well, I would have been wrong, and that thought will haunt me until my dying day.
The Trautweins along with Will's closest friends were the ones who started Will To Live, a foundation with a motto of "For the kids, through the kids, by the kids" with the sole purpose of getting teenagers to "talk about it". "Will never told anyone he was struggling, and he had so many friends who would have been there for him, and many who would have related to him - and could have helped him" says Trautwein. Thus , a foundation was formed to create an opportunity for kids to help each other, and after 6 years, and over $1m raised including $75,000 that were raised right here in johns Creek on Jan 28th at the 7th annual running of the 'Where There's A Will There's A Way 5K" , the foundation is being continually asked to take it's message of "Life Teammates" to college campuses.
John Trautwein makes over 100 speeches every year, mostly right here in this community . Mostly to high schools and local organizations, teams, scout troups, youth groups and church congregations. The Will To Live Foundation not only funded the implementation of the Signs of Suicide program in all of Fulton County schools back in 2012, but John has spoken to over 20 high school student bodies in the last 3 years alone.
"Unfortunately, the need for this message is not going away - life is very difficult for the teens in this community and in communities all over the nation - I literally get asked to speak every single week, and unfortunately, I need to turn them down, as we just don't have the funds, the time, nor the resources to do it all - and it kills me."
Lately, however, John has been getting requests from the college audiences and he's trying hard to find ways to get the message to them. "Over the past 6 years, I've spoken to so many kids who are now in college, and it's so rewarding for me to get emails, texts and calls from them asking me to "plesse bring the message" to their campus as well."
in 2016 John spoke to Northwestern University (his alma mater) as well as GA Southern, and University of GA. In the last month, he spoke again at UGA and addressed a convention of Delta Gama sorority executives and administrators from 13 colleges from all over the southeastern USA. In March of this year he will be speaking at the University of Alabama and in April he travels to Illinois State University to speak to a huge audience in ISU's Red-Byrd arena.
1 in 10 already have a plan for suicide!
"The statistics around college suicides are just as bad as high school" says Trautwein, "Not only do 1 in 6 struggle from some sort of depression or anxiety, but 1 in 10 college students at one time have actually had a plan of "how" their going to take their life - that is so alarming to me, and no-one knows it, and no -one talks about it - well... I'm talking about it and the kids of Will To Live are talking about it"
Johns speeches are entitled "A positive passion - a positive Will" - and he is determined to leave the audience with an extremely positive feeling despite stemming from such a terrible tragedy and such a dismal subject. His book "My Living Will" (www.my-living-will.org) which chronicles his story since the death of his son, is being raved as inspirational in it's ability to find the good in such devastating circumstances.
"The bottom line here" Trautwein concludes, "is that being a high school or college student today is extremely competitive, extremely difficult, extremely negative and extremely different from anything the adults in their lives had to deal with when they were in college. I didn't have to deal with the internet, cell phones, social media, etc. when I was their age, how can I pretend to really know what they're going through? The fact is I can't, but I can let them know that I understand this is very hard, and that the people next to them in the classroom, dorm room, sidelines, dugout, choir bench, church pew, wherever, are also going through similar struggles. Your peers - your friends - your Life Teammates understand you - so take advantage of that and talk to them - because together we're stronger - its' as simple as that. I never once told my son Will "wow this is hard inst' it?" - I was always telling him how great it was - I shudder some nights just thinking about that"
John, a successful businessman here in Atlanta, hopes that some day he is able to reach a larger audience with his message, but one thing is for sure, he will never stop trying - and it's a message that needs to be heard.
For more about the Will To Live Foundation, visit www.will-to-live.org