By selling customized hats, the pair raised nearly $1,000 for Friendship Circle’s UMatter.
Two University of Michigan students from Alpha Epsilon Pi found a creative way to raise funds and awareness for mental health challenges on campus. By selling customized hats, the pair raised nearly $1,000 for Friendship Circle’s UMatter.
“Your story isn’t over,” states the front of the cap. On the side, it reads “National Suicide Awareness Month” with a hotline number. For someone struggling with thoughts of suicide, this powerful statement could be the sign they need to seek help.
Jared Brecher and Jonah Stone launched the initiative out of their fraternity and sold the hats around the University of Michigan campus over the past year. Through partnerships with AEPi chapters at neighboring schools like Michigan State, the hats reached a wide audience.
“It was a hard year, and everyone was in a weird headspace because of the pandemic,” Stone said. “Whether you related to it or not, it was an issue everyone could support.”
The Michigan AEPi duo talked extensively about which cause would be best to support. They agreed on suicide awareness.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 5 American adults live with mental illness as of 2019. Suicide took 47,500 American lives in 2019 and was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Suicide is something that has impacted more of us than I would’ve thought,” Brecher said. “We felt it was our job to help.”
Brecher said he was surprised and excited to find out so many people connected with the hats and their message.
“The sororities were also extremely supportive, and about half our sales came from them,” said Brecher. “We never knew what impact there would be until we looked down one day and saw that we raised over $1,000.”
Link to UMatter
Stone’s passion for mental health causes began in high school when he got involved with UMatter, a Friendship Circle initiative powered by the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety, that enables high schoolers to help their peers overcome stigmas and other obstacles related to mental health.
“I saw that UMatter was a group that was actually making a difference,” Stone said. “It ignited a passion in me that kids my age were having that important conversation.”
While in the program, Stone took on the role of major events coordinator for UMatter’s One Thing I Wish You Knew. The annual event amplifies voices in the community and how their attempts to overcome challenges have often felt isolating and alienating.
“Hearing the speakers telling their stories to hundreds of people in the audience, knowing I played a role in getting these conversations out there really meant a lot to me,” Stone said.
Even after leaving for college, UMatter’s mission never left Stone’s mind. Brecher and Stone’s donation will help UMatter programming continue impacting teens in the community.
“Jonah found a remarkable way to continue supporting UMatter’s programming and mission after high school,” said Friendship Circle Teen Director Rabbi Yarden Blumstein.
“Mental health challenges are a major concern for college students. Jared and Jonah took UMatter’s mission on a college framework and started that important conversation on campus.”
The money raised will help many kids in need of counseling and emotional support.
Even though Brecher doesn’t struggle with mental health, he realized that many of his fraternity brothers do when living in the AEPi house this past school year (2020-21).
“At one point or another we’ve all hit an emotional wall, and the hats are a way of telling people they aren’t alone,” Brecher said. “So many of my friends have said that therapy has been great for their psyche.”
In Brecher’s experiences, “people don’t talk about [mental health] enough, and quarantine forced people to spend much more time with their thoughts than they were prepared.
“I spent so much time with these guys that they just felt comfortable to open up at a certain point,” he added. “I’d say some of the most honest and meaningful conversations of my life came from my brothers when we lived in the house.”
To support the cause, or for information about the UMatter program powered by the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety or Friendship Circle, call (248) 788-7878. If you or anyone else is thinking about suicide, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 998 or call 1-800-273-8255.