Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation to hold fundraiser for suicide awareness

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Hundreds are set to attend a fundraising event next week in memory of 2018 South Side High School graduate Ryan O’Shea.

Ryan died by suicide at age 18 on Jan. 11. His parents, Mary and John O’Shea, have since launched the Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation to bring programs about suicide prevention and mental health awareness to the community.

“We were devastated, and we couldn’t understand how this came about,” Mary said. “After speaking with others shortly after, we realized so many young people were struggling in our town, and we couldn’t not do something. In our pain, we thought, we have to educate the community.”

The foundation’s first large fundraiser will include a kick-off event at Kasey’s Kitchen and Cocktails on Aug. 8, from 6 to 10 p.m., and a basketball tournament, commemorative walks and family fun day at Mill River Park on Aug. 10, Ryan’s birthday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Beginning in third grade, Ryan loved playing basketball. He played in several leagues and volunteered at Hoops for All, a local basketball program for children and teenagers with special needs. In his senior year at South Side, he was captain of the Cyclones basketball team.

“He was always dragging people down to the court to play,” John said, noting that his son was “forever at Mill River,” which is why they chose the park for the event. “For Ryan, playing basketball brought everyone together, no matter who you were.”

In honor of his athleticism and community engagement, the fundraiser aims to bring people together with a common purpose.

The fundraiser at Kasey’s will feature a buffet dinner, drinks, a 50/50 raffle and raffle basket prizes. Over the course of the evening, the foundation will open a dialogue about mental health.

“Suicide is not talked about,” John said. “It needs to be talked about and treated more like an epidemic than something that is shameful.”

Next Saturday’s walks, which begin at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., will also help to open a conversation, John said. There will be separate 2.3-mile walks, in honor of Ryan’s number, 23, when he played for the Cyclones. Participants may choose different color beads to wear that indicate their experience, whether they lost a loved one to suicide, have attempted suicide or connect to the mental health issue in other ways.

The basketball tournament is open to children grades 4 and up, and adults can join in on the fun later in the day. There will also be mini-games, food trucks and merchandise for sale, all in memory of Ryan and to benefit the cause.

The foundation will invest the funds it raises in educational programs, events and more community and school resources to combat suicide. The organization’s board members are working closely with the Rockville Centre School District’s newly formed Mental Health Task Force to research the best tools to help students cope with mental health stressors.

“We still have many decisions to make on how we will put forth initiatives and how to serve the community best,” John said. “We don’t want to see [teen suicide] happen again, and will do anything not to have it happen again.”

The O’Sheas said they hoped the foundation would help teach young people about the effects of social media, mindfulness techniques, methods of addressing suicide and the effect concussions have on mental health, among other topics.

For now, next week’s gathering signifies the beginning of a collective journey the community has dedicated itself to, they said.

“It takes a village,” John said. “And this event is designed to bring people together.”

“[Ryan] was part of the fiber and the family of the Rockville Centre community,” Mary added. Her voice cracked as she acknowledged the support of residents, friends and family who have dedicated their time and effort to the foundation. “We couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “They are amazing.”

To learn more about the Ryan Patrick O’Shea Foundation’s upcoming events, go to

www.ryanpatrickosheafoundation.org.

For those in need of support, the Long Island Crisis Center’s 24/7 hotline is (516) 679-1111, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255.