Hope 4 Heroes aims to support the mental health of first responders and veterans

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 8:07 AM CDT
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MONDOVI, Wis. (WEAU) - What started out as a thought is becoming a reality.

“I just think that there’s a need to do something. What that something is I may not have all the answers right now, but my goal is to find them,” Kyle Downing said.

Downing is a firefighter in Eleva.

He wanted to spread awareness of and prevent suicide among those who protect and serve.

“I kind of had an idea of talking with my mom and branching off hope 4 you and creating something to focus more on our first responders,” Downing said.

Deb Helgeson started the non-profit Hope 4 U, a non-profit aimed at suicide prevention, awareness, and intervention.

With the help and inspiration of Helgeson, Downing’s mom, Hope 4 Heroes was created.

“Hope for Heroes is to help our heroes, which include our law enforcement, our veterans, our dispatchers, our EMS team, and our police officers,” Helgeson said. “We want them to know that they are not alone.”

Downing, along with other first responders, took on a month-long challenge to raise money for the non-profit.

“It turned into five of us walking and we each committed to walking 100 miles during September, which we all know is Suicide Awareness Month,” Downing said.

October 1st marked the last leg of their pledge, walking a final 11 miles together officially marking the launch of Hope 4 Heroes.

At the finish line, family and friends and their community cheered them on.

“When we came around the corner, we saw everybody here, you know, that’s when it hit us that, hey, we’re doing something and people are noticing the noise,” Downing said.

Humbling and amazing.

That’s how Hope 4 U co-founder Amanda Lacey described the dedication of those who walked.

“I can’t even really explain the feeling,” Lacey said. “But to know that one person’s idea can make an impact with a whole bunch of people rooting for the same change and for the same need, we can really make a big difference.”

Lacey says it’s important to have a group focusing on the mental health of those who work to keep their communities safe.

“They are the ones out there putting their lives on the line when people are in need and they’re the ones that are taught to build up the walls of confidentiality and security, and we want to make sure they have a place to go and a resource to go so they are not the next suicide statistic,” Lacey said.

By the end, Downing more than doubled his goal.

“I walked 211 miles,” Downing said.

Over $2,000 was raised for the nonprofit laying the foundation for another support system for heroes.

“I hope at the end of the day, if somebody is down there, they know they can reach out to hope for heroes or hope for you or even a friend or a neighbor or just anybody they know,” Downing said.

The funds raised by both Hope 4 U and Hope 4 Heroes go toward mental health resources for community members and first responders.

Organizers also want to remind people that the National Suicide Hotline number is now 9-8-8.

To learn more about Hope 4 U and Hope 4 Heroes, click here.