This year, one Etowah High School student is using that opportunity to make a difference in memory of his childhood friend, the late Connor Merritt.
With the help of his parents and Post 4 Cherokee County Commissioner Jason Nelms, 17-year-old Taylor Thompson is organizing the inaugural "Live On" Fishing Tournament, in honor of Connor.
The event will be conducted on March 21 at Victoria Harbor Marina on Lake Allatoona in Woodstock. All proceeds will benefit the newly formed Live On Yellow Ribbon Cherokee County to provide awareness and training for suicide prevention.
Connor was a junior at Sequoyah High School when he committed suicide on May 9.
"Growing up, fishing was one of the things we always did together," said Taylor, son of Kelly Thompson and Ashley Cantwell of Woodstock. "When everyone is out there fishing, it will feel like we're still with him."
The boys met at age 7 when they played baseball together. Connor went on to play on his school's freshman and junior varsity teams, but fishing on his bass boat became a passion for him during his last few years. Connor's goal was to attend a college with a bass fishing team, Taylor said.
Funds raised from the event will help kick start the Yellow Ribbon chapter's programs. Judy Merritt, Connor's mother and founder of the chapter, said she will recruit people to give presentations about suicide, warning signs and how to talk openly about the leading cause of death among 10- to 25-year-olds. The chapter will also distribute the organization's signature cards that read, "It's OK to Ask 4 Help!" with numbers for teens and parents to call for assistance.
"My main goal is to get students involved - to get them thinking about this and know that suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem," Ms. Merritt said. "There are so many people that aren't trained on what to look for, and it's such a horrible trend, we have to do something."
Through Taylor's efforts and the support of the community, the chapter already raised $750 to send Ms. Merritt to Denver for training at the national Yellow Ribbon headquarters. Taylor also has already collected $6,000 in donations from area Walmart stores and a $500 check from Cobb EMC.
"My goal is for this to be huge," Ms. Merritt said of the chapter. "I will need people who are passionate about this, which should be any parent. Every child is at risk. ... I do not want another child to be where Connor was and not ask for help and do not want any other family and friends have to go through this."
Nelms said he was eager to help when Taylor approached him about being his senior project's facilitator.
"Teenagers go through quite a bit. It's important to raise awareness about these issues and address them," Nelms said. "I'm very proud of what Taylor's doing. He's an inspiration."
Taylor will attend Mississippi State University in the fall to study business and run track. But he said he plans to return to Woodstock in April for next year's tournament.
"We want to keep it going, so Connor's name will live on," he said.