When Will Trautwein, a ninth-grader at Northview High School in Johns Creek, took his own life in October 2010, his parents found a way to keep his spirit alive.
In just a matter of days following the tragedy, John and Susie Trautwein formed the non-profit Will To Live Foundation to help spread awareness of suicide, the third-leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24.
John Trautwein said that he and his wife started forming the notion of creating a foundation when at the funeral, Will's friends, who were obviously devastated, began to express their support for each other.
"We were surrounded by his friends," John said. "And they were looking to each other. It was wonderful the way they were responding to each other - 'I love you, I love you; if you're ever hurting, you'll tell me, right?' "
Will was a handsome, popular, athletic and talented 15-year-old who came from a successful and loving family and seemingly had everything. "On Thursday night he seemed happy, and on Friday he was gone," John said.
The group's mission goes beyond raising funds for spreading awareness to uniting youth in a circle of support. Its activities, which have included a music festival "WillStock," a annual 5K run, and various sports tournaments, are organized by children themselves. "Through these fun events that spread awareness of the epidemic of teen suicide, the kids work together and they create these bonds," said John, echoing the foundation's motto of "For the kids, through the kids, by the kids."
As Will was an avid musician and lacrosse player, the activities reflect his interests. Life Teammates is another of the foundation's initiatives that encourages teens to find a "teammate," someone they can trust and who will support them.
"The foundation came from the frustration that had Will only known, had he only gone to all his friends that he had, had he just opened up to one of them maybe they could have helped him through somehow, some way," Susie said. "We want kids to recognize who those people are that are there for them all of the time."
The group raised $50,000 at a Life Teammates Gala & Auction last summer alone. "The goal is not about making money, the money just seems to come – people believe in it," John said.
The foundation's work has reached beyond Johns Creek. In March 2011 both houses of the Georgia state government passed resolutions recognizing the Will To Live Foundation. This year the foundation is partnering with Fulton County Schools and Screening for Mental Health, a Massachusetts-based non-profit that created a Signs of Suicide Program, to educate all of the school system's counselors as well as the general faculty to recognize and respond to signs that students may be in danger of considering suicide.
Meanwhile, this year's Where There's A Will There's a Way 5k is coming up on Saturday, Feb. 11. Registration is at 8 a.m.; the run starts at 9 at State Farm, 11350 Johns Creek Parkway, Johns Creek. Runners and walkers can register in advance or the morning of the race.