Source: Chicago Sun Times
WEST DUNDEE — Brandon Rohlwing was Googling “ways to end it all” when he stumbled across ReachOut.com.
The 17-year-old was “feeling really low and had suicidal thoughts,” he said. Figuring out who you are, fitting into high school cliques — it’s “a lot to go through, and it’s something nobody should have to go through alone,” he said.
“That’s when you’ll start feeling down.”
ReachOut offered help to “get through the tough times,” according to the website’s home page. He spent hours reading the advice and the real stories from other teenagers and young adults on the site.
And, Brandon said, “It really helped me get the courage to tell my parents what I’d been feeling so I could get help.”
Once he got that help from a doctor and counselor and was “back on my own two feet,” he said, he contacted the Inspire USA Foundation, which runs ReachOut, to thank them and ask if there was any way he could give back.
In March, he was invited to be one of about 15 students on the foundation’s ReachOut Council, he said. Since then, he has worked more than 250 hours as a volunteer creating material for the website, its blog and its social media profiles to help others struggling through tough times.
That work with ReachOut is why Brandon’s fellow Dundee-Crown High School senior Edyta Pietrowska nominated him in the second Good Deed Dollars contest, sponsored by Community Unit School District 300, Inland Real Estate Corp. and the Algonquin Commons shopping center.
The contest rewards middle and high school students in the Carpentersville-area school district for their “exceptionally selfless good deeds,” according to a statement from District 300.
Brandon was out sick the day the six contest winners were announced earlier this month in Community District 300. The Dundee-Crown senior found the half-deflated balloons and oversized $500 check in Principal Lynn McCarthy’s office the next day at the Carpentersville school, he said.
“I’m perfectly satisfied just getting an email saying, ‘You saved my life tonight,’” Brandon said. “To know that my friends recognize it and they’re proud of me, too — it’s awesome.”
Doing good deeds
Good Deed Dollars contest winners are nominated in letters or videos from their peers. The top three finishers in both middle and high school were recognized at the December school board meeting and received $500 gift cards to Algonquin Commons.
“It was tremendously inspiring to read all of the nominations and learn about all the wonderful and inspiring things D300 students are doing to help the community and make the world a better place,” said Beth Hicks, assistant vice president and director of marketing for Inland, in a written statement.
“We’re happy that we are able to give a little bit back to these amazing students through the Good Deed Dollars contest.”
True to form, Brandon said he plans to use his $500 gift card to give back as well: He plans to buy a digital SLR camera “to work on stuff for ReachOut.”
That drive to give back is something he said he picked up from his parents, Todd and Susan Rohlwing.
“My dad is a state police officer. He’s always enforcing service before self. We’ve always done stuff around Christmastime, giving gifts and ringing the bells,” Brandon said.
“It’s a value my family instilled in me, and I got very passionate about — I do it all the time now.”
Susan Rohlwing began volunteering in District 300 about 13 years ago and now is a special education administrator at Dundee-Crown, she said. Todd Rohlwing is a lieutenant in Illinois State Police District 2, Elgin.
The two brought the state police toy giveaway — something the troopers have done for years in Chicago with a grant from Walmart — to District 300 last year, Todd Rohlwing said. This year, 38 state troopers brought 997 toys to students at Meadowdale Elementary School in Carpentersville, according to an email the lieutenant sent to the troopers who participated.
“As cops, we see so much bad,” Todd Rohlwing said. “This reinvigorates your faith in the world. That’s the bottom line in volunteering.”
And, he said, that volunteerism isn’t “just at the holidays — it’s year-round.”
Finding your passion
Todd and Susan Rohlwing also have helped coach their children’s sports teams and lead the youth group at Living Waters Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake. They’re passionate about helping kids, Todd Rohlwing said.
“You’ve got to find your passion. Maybe it’s helping elderly people or at the hospitals with the sick,” he said. “If you don’t find your passion, the volunteering thing will go quick.”
Their oldest daughter, Elizabeth, just graduated in May from Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy in Chicago.
The 21-year-old filmed a public service announcement in District 300 schools about bullying, Susan Rohlwing said.
Brandon found his passion in working with teenagers going through tough times. In addition to ReachOut, he also is involved with National Honor Society, Rotary Interact and Big Brothers Big Sisters through Dundee-Crown.
In an average high school class of 30 students, he said, an Inspire USA study found eight have experienced depression, and two have attempted suicide — “a silent holocaust.”
In his posts on the ReachOut Blog, Brandon has encouraged others “it’s never too late to rid yourself of regrets” after the death of a classmate. He’s written about feeling different at a very young age, “inverting” his personality to fit in and finally realizing “you can be gay and still be accepted by people that matter and be happy.”
And he’s found his passion, he said.
“I wanted to help teens get through what I did and let them know things will get better and it’ll make them a stronger person,” Brandon said.
For more information about the Inspire USA Foundation, or for help getting through tough times, visit ReachOut.com.
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