OLD LYME — More than seven years and $14,000 of donations later, the Jonathan Glenn Court at Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau was dedicated in the memory of a Lyme-Old Lyme graduate who took his own life on December 21, 2011.
The summer after Glenn’s death, several of his former classmates had the idea to honor his memory with a four square court — his favorite activity in high school.
“We wanted four square because Jon loved four square, it would be a great way to honor him and allow other kids to play his favorite game,” said Ali McPherson, a classmate and friend of Glenn’s from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The fundraising efforts led to much more than a four square court. On Sunday, they dedicated a multi-sport court — including basketball, volleyball and of course four square — along with benches, picnic tables and a new lawn behind Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau. The fundraising effort has also led a program of suicide awareness and prevention education in the Lyme-Old Lyme Schools.
“With the funding that we gathered we’ve also put suicide awareness and prevention programs in the schools,” McPherson said. “We are offering children a place to go after school, a place to have fun and education and awareness about mental health.”
The court allows more kids to gather, play and have fun safely after school than before, said Mary Seidner, the director of the Lymes’ Youth Services Bureau.
“There are always kids out here playing and enjoying life,” said Norman Bersing, Glenn’s father.
The dedication was held on what would have been Glenn’s 29th birthday. Glenn’s family, former classmates and many who donated to the project came to celebrate Glenn and the much improved play area his legacy helped create.
“This is putting a stopper in thinking about this project for a long time. To see his name up there is really satisfying,” Bersing said.
Despite the tragedy, Bersing said that the love his family has been shown since his son’s death made him realize the benefits of living in a small town like Old Lyme.
“When something goes so horribly wrong people mobilize individually and collectively. People know what happened and know what to do,” Bersing said. “We had quite a bit of frozen lasagna afterwards. It seems silly, but it is one less decision you have to make at that difficult time.”
The most important part of the entire project, Bersing said, is the fact that students and parents in Old Lyme are more aware that depression and suicide are a problem that can affect any family, and something that needs to be discussed.
“December 21, 2011 was a lightning bolt from the sky to us, we were shocked. We couldn’t believe what just happened,” Bersing said.
The new suicide awareness and prevention programs put in by place by Lyme-Old Lyme Schools and Lymes’ Youth Services Bureau is helping families understand, recognize and respond to mental health problems.
“They provide training about what to do when you’re interacting with someone who has suicidal thoughts,” McPherson said. “It’s really hard to have those conversations and recognize those signs. But recognition is half the battle.”