Zoe Yurchuck, 17, lost her father in August 2010. The teen, who is president of her senior class, wanted something positive to come from her loss. So she decided to dedicate her senior project to help prevent others from facing the same tragedy she and her family went through.
Zoe will have “Save-A-Life Movie Night” from 6 to 9 p.m. March 2 at the Woodstock High School football stadium to benefit the Johnny Foundation.
The Johnny Foundation is a Canton-based organization dedicated to raising awareness of depression and suicide prevention through community fundraising events, providing resources and financially supporting suicide prevention research studies of other organizations. It is named in honor of Johnny Leathers, who took his own life on Aug. 29, 2000.
The movie “We Are Marshall” will play on the school’s new video scoreboard and counselors from Paraclete Counseling in Suwanee will be on hand to educate and inform people about depression and suicide. The event is open to the public and free to attend — with donations strongly encouraged.
Johnny Leathers’ mother, Lisa Leathers, is spokeswoman for the Johnny Foundation. She invited Zoe’s family to her foundation’s Fashion for Passion Show last year after friends suggested she reach out to the family following Zoe’s father’s suicide.
Zoe’s mother, Susan Flannigan, and sister, Zia Yurchuck, 11, attended the show and shared a connection over their mutual grief journey, Leathers said.
“We developed a bond that most survivors do,” Leathers said. “It’s very hard to walk through the journey but it makes you hopeful when you know others are out there doing it and surviving.”
About four months ago, Zoe contacted Leathers about her idea to have a benefit.
“I thought it would be a good community event for everyone to attend,” Zoe said.
Together, Leathers and Zoe have worked to put on the event and gather materials from the Georgia Suicide Prevention Action Network and the American Association for Suicide Prevention to distribute.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Leathers said. “Zoe just has such a passion for this. It’s been a blessing for me.”
After learning about video-editing in her broadcast production class, Zoe also decided to make a short film about her story to show before the movie.
“I really wanted to help other people realize it’s okay to talk about suicide,” Zoe said. “I want to bring awareness to suicide because it’s kind of a taboo subject and it’s not talked about often. That’s one of the reasons why suicide rates are still so high.”
Zoe said she had a very difficult time dealing with her father’s death.
“I didn’t know if I could talk about it, if I could tell people,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through. It’s okay to get help — my dad didn’t, but I feel like he would still be here today if he did.”
Though she had no specific monetary goal, Zoe said she’d like to raise whatever she can and be able to help people at the same time.
“I’d really like to raise a substantial amount for the Johnny Foundation to help others with counseling services,” she said.
Leathers said she’s not so concerned about the money but the people they can reach.
“If two people come to the event and one is helped, Zoe has accomplished her goal,” Leathers said. “It’s about reaching out to people and educating them before it’s too late.”
After graduation, Zoe plans to attend the University of Georgia to study exercise science. A competitive cheerleader, Zoe has torn both her right and left anterior cruciate ligaments. She discovered her passion to become a physical therapist as she was recovering from the injuries.
The varsity cheerleader said all of her friends have been very supportive of her project and she hopes for a big turn-out.
“I want everyone to come out and enjoy a fun, free night where they can learn how to save lives and become more aware,” Zoe said.
Leathers said she is very proud of Zoe for her efforts.
“(High school) seniors are usually more interested in where they’re going to college or what they’re wearing to homecoming, but Zoe is holding an event that really saves lives,” she said.