Stay Humble, Stay Strong, and Stay Together

Have you ever seen someone with a broken leg, on crutches playing first base?  Have you ever seen a police officer announce a backyard baseball game over his loud hauler?  Have you ever seen 22 people make time stand still with only a bat, a ball, and the diamond?   If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then you must have witnessed the greatest game ever played.   For those that have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to share with you the story of how a small group of people made the world stand still for one afternoon and how we arrived at that place in our lives in the first place.

February 29, 2016, a day that I will never forget. In the early morning hours, I received a phone call from my dad. He only said a few words, but I will never forget those words or the pain that overtook me. Within in a few short minutes of that phone call I find myself in an unfamiliar room with my family.  Not everyone in that room was blood, but they were my FAMILY. I’m sure of that. The emotions of pain were evident on every person in that room. And every adult in that room, including myself, knew that within a few minutes, a group of kids/ teenagers were going to walk in and their worlds were going to change forever. As I witnessed these kids/teenagers process the information they were receiving and the emotions run through them, I knew that although I was dealing with my own pain, that my focus needed to be on how to lift the weight of the world off their shoulders.

The next few days passed and everyone was still in disbelief, trying to process what had happened and understand how this could have happened in our family, our group. I decided to reach out to the group of kids, and started with my cousin who I told I would pick up and take the batting cage to hit some balls because he loved baseball. I realized at that moment, that although everyone grieves in their own way, the one thing we all have in common is the love of baseball.  Everyone in our town had grown up playing on the same fields and that’s when the idea hit me. I immediately started sending texts and making phone calls; telling everyone to be at Underhill Park 3 PM, and saying we are going to PLAY BALL. The group text starts blowing up. Kids half my age were sending challenges, laying out the stakes, and talking more trash than I had ever heard in my 27 years on this earth. And I’ve played many different sports at many different levels, so that’s saying a lot.  For the parents reading this, no worries, it was all PG, and none of them mentioned our mothers at all…

We showed up to the field and the kids were all waiting impatiently to pick teams.  HECK NO, I thought, we were not picking teams after all the trash talking they did!   It was time to put their money where their mouth was.  We split it right down the middle, everyone under 15 on one team, and everyone over 15 on my team.  I soon came to regret that decision, they not only beat us, but they held us to maybe 3 runs.  I am certain that the 12 year old on the mound was throwing more heat than I was.  After 2 innings I was booed off the mound, it was not pretty at all.  Here I was throwing as much heat as I could muster, with no catcher (no one was brave enough without any equipment), a first baseman on crutches, a short stop that couldn’t catch a cold if he tried, and an outfield that thought it was more comical watching me try to pitch and completely forgot we were there to win.  We were the Bad News Bears and playing the middle school version of the New York Yankees. The kids might as well have been on a tropical island, they brought the heat and we supplied them with the breeze. We certainly would have saved ourselves the embarrassment had we just picked teams! WHO KNEW?!

After the game, we stood around poking fun at each other, reliving the experience.  Then it all of sudden hit me. From the morning of the 29th, up to the baseball game, we had all been in a daze, waiting to wake up from a nightmare.  However, during the baseball game, for a couple of hours, time stood still. Our nightmare that we’ve now realized will never end, was put on hold. The world did not exist outside of that game, it was just us, together, hitting dingers. Cars driving by had pulled over to watch, families stopped to cheer us on.  And to whichever kid’s dad was announcing from his police loud hauler; I really appreciate you pointing out that it was my fourth strikeout of the day. In those couple of hours for the young men whose life had changed just a few days prior, the outside world was silent. For the young adults, we had a moment of remembering what it was to be a kid again, just to enjoy the moment. A few days prior, we were dealt a life-changing blow, but in that moment on that baseball field, we had each other and together we made it count.

Seven Months after the day of the baseball game, I started the next journey in my life and no longer lived in the area. Exactly a year after the baseball game, I received a text.  It was a picture of the group, playing baseball. They had come back together to play ball, they have decided to keep it going and organized the entire game themselves.  Today, coming up on 2 years from the first time we played, my phone rang.  It was one of the young men informing me that they will be playing baseball once again.  I had to take a moment after that phone call and let it sink in. These young men have taught me courage, perseverance, determination, and most importantly loyalty. I have received texts from parents thanking me over the past few years for starting the baseball game for these boys, and although I humbly appreciate it, in return I say – THANK YOU to the young men, who have made a difference for me, this community and for each other!

Before I close on my story I want to leave a personal message to those who played that day: When that idea came to me 2 years ago I never imagined we’d be here 2 years later not only sharing our story, but continuing hands down the most memorable game of my life. You all are changing this world for the better. You’re showing everyone watching and reading that it’s not how you fall, but how you get back up. That’s what life is all about, when it kicks you down, dust yourself off, get back in the ring and give it everything you have. In life we never truly lose, we learn. Then you take what you’ve learned, apply it, and look at all the good that is coming from this. I’m so proud to tell people to look what we are doing together, this is OUR GAME, OUR FOUNDATION, OUR COMMUNITY, OUR STORY! Do NOT be afraid, do NOT stop talking, do NOT stop sharing, and do NOT ever give up! I LOVE ALL OF YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART!

Stay humble, stay strong, and stay together.

Written by George Hess

Featured blogger for month of March.

Stand with me, Stand with us, Stand with them

Imagine running down a dark tunnel trying to make it out the other side. Only, with every step you take, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to get further and further away.  And then as you run faster in hopes of chasing down the light, the tunnel only seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Eventually, you have no room left inside to run and the tunnel consumes you. While this might sound like a bad dream, it is a reality for millions of people around the world.

Scientifically, mental illness can be classified as a chemical imbalance and it’s quick for an intelligent community of specialists to assume that we can fix that imbalance through pharmaceutical intervention. However, no number of drugs prescribed for depression will ever provide a solution to why that individual is depressed in the first place. Maybe their life has recently been turned upside down. Maybe they’ve lost all their direction in life. Regardless of who, what or why they are depressed, a Prozac a day isn’t a solution. At a time where the loss of loved ones has become normalized, we need to do more than just watch. We need to do more than just prescribe pills and assume everything is better. We need to start embracing the presence of others in our lives. We need to realize, now, just how precious each person surrounding us truly is.  If we want to live a better life in a better world, we need to start actively changing the way that we go about mental illness. Our current situation is not and should not be acceptable. While I do believe there are positives to anti-depressants, I find it ironic that the only “solution” we’re able to give our loved ones are prescription drugs that identify suicidal thoughts and suicide as possible side effects.

Is our best option right now really to prescribe those that need our help a drug that could potentially make them want to hurt themselves even more?

And that “solution” is only viable for the few that choose to seek help.

We can do more.

We need to do more.

We’ve all been touched by suicide in some way or another, whether it was a family member, a close friend, or that kid in school that you never really talked to much but would have if you knew they needed help.

How were we supposed to help when we didn’t know they needed help?

I can tell you how much that question hurts. It sucks. I’ve asked myself that question more than once and each time it’s been harder to answer. I’ve already lost someone that I would’ve done anything to save. I’ve already lost someone that I would give up anything just to spend one more day with. I’ve even had those moments where I was willing to give everything up for one more minute, one more hug, just one more chance to see them face to face.

If you’ve lost someone near and dear to your heart, I know your pain. And if by some miracle you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. But don’t let luck run out before you decide to join the movement. Step up and lead the fight because I sincerely hope you’re not within the splash zone of the next tragedy.

It is none of our faults, however at the same time it is all our faults.  There are 123 suicides every single day in the United States and the number of attempted suicides is 25 times that.  The world is slowly engulfing the lives of those around us and we don’t even know it.  Mental illness is growing in huge numbers around the globe, but we don’t talk about it.  People of all ages are taking medicine for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder but they don’t tell their friends for fear of what they’ll think of them.

Medicine is never going to solve the underlying issue.  We need to eliminate the driving forces of mental illness from our society. There are over 200 classified mental illnesses but nine out of every ten people don’t understand what mental illness actually is.

My name is Vincent Giardino and I am the founder of The Wake Up Project. Consider this a personal invitation for you to join the fight against suicide and put an end to the tragedy that is not only killing our loved ones but destroying a piece of each and every one of us with them. Stand with me, stand with us, stand with them.







Stand Up, Speak Up, Wake Up

Good health is not just the absence of physical disease, it is the state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. It aids in determining how we, as individuals, handle stress, enjoy life, and make choices. You will not have a healthy body if it’s not accompanied by a healthy mind. When we are free of depression, anxiety, addictions, or stress, we are more capable to live a much fuller, more enjoyable life. Unfortunately, we live in a world tainted with brokenness, volatility of human emotion, and imperfection. While positive mental health is strongly encouraged, it is not always granted.

Here in Mays Landing, New Jersey, we’ve woken up to the tragic phone calls and group texts. We’ve attended the candlelight vigils. We’ve attended the grief counseling. But each time we watch a little piece of the community drift away, it only gets harder every time we lose one of our own. Here in this community, we are doing more than lending an ear. We are hosting a charity event called The Wake Up @ Lake Lenape. The event is directed towards continuing the conversation about mental health and suicide that is already circling our community. Here in Atlantic County we have faced tragedy and have felt the deep loss of suicide. Together, we have struggled and together, we must continue to rebuild. Not only is this event meant to spread positive mental health, it is an event taking place to show others that there are people who care. This community cares.

Regardless of who you are, and whether you have known it or not, every one of you has been touched by mental illness in some way. Whether it was a brother, sister, friend, co-worker, mom, dad, neighbor, the list goes on. Facing a loss of any form is difficult, but facing one you never saw coming is torturous. The truth is, you never know when you might lose out on a life the way so many have. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. On average, there are 123 suicides per day. These individuals are blinded by hopelessness and isolation. Just because a suicidal person may not be asking for help, doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. Even though you may not be going through a mental disorder yourself, it doesn’t mean that the person beside you isn’t…but what can you do? A lot more than you think.

It starts by taking part in the conversation and helping bring forth change. Speaking up and freely talking about suicide and mental health creates a culture where people can get help without shame. It encourages others to ask for help, knowing that there are people who are willing to lend a listening ear. Being silent and turning a blind eye does not help you or anyone around you. There is no set “program” for good mental health, but increasing the range of choices available for those who need it, increases the chance for more people to adopt and maintain positive mental lifestyles.

You can say “not me” but you should do everything in your power to prevent yourself from saying “why me?” So, for the new year I invite you to spread the mental health message and join the fight against suicide by following The Wake Up Project and if you can, attending the event. If not for you, then for the people in your life you love the most.

And if you are going through something, and you happen to stumble upon this little post, know that we care. Mistakes and defeat are all a part of life’s wild journey. These feelings of self-loathing, despair, or anger are temporary, and you will get through it. Choose to fight through the darkness and the sadness. We are here for you, and whenever you feel like wanting to give up, know that there is so much life worth fighting for. Just because you can’t see it now, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Above all else, stay. Stay because nobody else could ever play your part. You have a purpose and soon enough, you will find it.

Support the cause and the event by following @thewakeupp on Instagram!

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This special post was written with love. Together, with Samantha Rocap & Sophia Cuerquis.

Create Positivity.