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Tennis For A Cause

Event to aid George Orley Mental Wellness Initiative.

Five years ago, the Orley family of Bloomfield Hills — Diane and Randy, Amanda and Sam — lost their son and brother to suicide.

Shining the Light, Spotlight on Teen Mental Health. Mental health, mental illness. mental health awareness, suicide prevention, we need to talk, end the stigma.Kelly Kosek | Detroit Jewish News

A University of Michigan student and a true people person, George struggled with bipolar disorder. To honor George, his family decided to help others wrestling with mental health issues.

They established the George A. Orley Philanthropic Fund at the Jewish Federation, which aids various projects, including suicide prevention, the Empowerment Plan and Jewish Family Service’s mental health intitiative.

With good friend Linda Aikens of West Bloomfield, they started the George Orley Mental Wellness Initiative (GOMWI), a major supporter of the Wolverine Support Network (WSN), a student peer-to-peer mental health support group that has seen much growth and success since 2015.

On Saturday, Oct. 27, GOMWI will sponsor a 10-Ball fundraiser at 7 p.m. at Franklin Athletic Club in Southfield. Some of Michigan’s best tennis players will compete. A strolling dinner will be provided by Bacco and Bigalora.

10-Ball was invented by local tennis pro Robert Chonoles, who knew George, a passionate tennis player, through the tennis community.

“I struggled with depression and anxiety myself and was diagnosed with severe depression, so I understand what it’s like to have a mental illness,” Chonoles says. “I’m not struggling now, but I felt comfortable coming to Diane with this idea for a fundraiser.”

At the event, there will be 16 quarters, then semi-finals and finals — with one winner triumphing. There will be several rounds of betting on the winner; proceeds go to the GOMWI.

Top prize is a $1,000 gift card from Somerset; second place gets $750 from RHP Properties; third prize is Wilson racquets and more ($500 value). A silent auction also is planned.

George OrleyNewsroom

George Orley

Diane Orley looks back at the five-year anniversary of George’s death: “I can’t believe it’s been that long. I feel a little more at peace but will forever feel the same about the loss. There have been many silver linings. We’ve helped people directly and indirectly and that’s been cathartic for us.

“Our daughter never considered becoming a doctor until her brother died. She realized through medicine, she can have maximum impact on taking care of people and being an advocate for those who cannot stand up for themselves. She’s using her voice to lobby politicians for policy reform and her training to demystify mental illness. Our son Sam, has worked to grow WSN around the country.”

Sam, now 22, lives in San Francisco and is a sustainability-focused investment banker. He is a founding member of WSN, was a weekly group leader and then executive director his senior year at U-M.

“As a high school senior, I learned (somewhat from a distance) about mental illness through George’s experience,” Sam says. “I very much live with shock and pain that he is no longer with us, and I am determined to both carry forward his legacy and shift the culture of mental health.”

In July, he co-founded The Support Network, which was created as an umbrella nonprofit to facilitate the implementation and development of peer support initiatives across the nation. Now, there are pilot programs at University of Cincinnati, Michigan State University and Cranbrook Kingswood High School. Sam serves on the advisory board.

For fundraiser tickets (pay your age), go to gomentalwellnessinitiative.org/tennis. For more on the Support Network, visit TheSupportNetwork.org.

Keri Cohen

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