Volunteers rush in to take up teen suicide prevention cause
An observation that gives me faith in humanity is that when something's wrong -- when there's a tragedy or an illness or a natural disaster -- people rush in to help.
A story about a family's home burning down runs in the newspaper and people respond with donations and myriad acts of kindness.
Hurricanes batter Texas and Florida and people from all corners of the country hurry down paths that are set up to help. They donate. They volunteer. They go where they're needed.
So this is a story about people rushing in.
Early last month, I wrote about Karen Moloney, the owner of a Dairy Queen in Naperville, Ill. My introduction to her came in the silliest of ways. In a July column I described my love of ice cream and my joking desire to become "a Dairy Queen ambassador."
Moloney reached out and bequeathed upon me the official title of ambassador of her Dairy Queen. I humbly accepted and then got to know Moloney's story.
In 2011, a 17-year-old who worked at her Dairy Queen committed suicide. The young man's death shook Moloney, and she dedicated herself to raising awareness of youth suicide, eventually starting an annual golf outing that raised money for suicide prevention groups.
The teenager, Jonathan Kaden, loved making Dilly Bars when he worked for Moloney, so she named the event the Dilly Bar Annual Golf Outing. As you might expect, people rushed in and thousands of dollars were raised each year.
Until this year.
Moloney was diagnosed with cancer last November. It's in her bile ducts, and it's not curable. She has been fighting, and continues to do so, but it was too much for her to pull off the Dilly Bar fundraiser.
I wrote about Moloney and Jonathan, and about the importance of suicide prevention at a time when it's the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 34.
I floated the idea that someone in Naperville should hold an event to fill the void left by Moloney's fundraiser. And I'm happy to report that people rushed in.
On Nov. 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen at 1817 Wehrli Road, people from Naperville and beyond will gather to raise money for Hope for the Day, a Chicago-based suicide prevention program Moloney has donated to in the past. They will gather to listen to a speaker from the program deliver a message about the scope of the problem and the things that can be done to help. And they'll gather to honor Moloney, who has long been a fixture in this Naperville community, with her Dairy Queen acting as a hub around several neighborhoods.
WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling will be there. The mayor of Naperville is coming, along with a singing group and local Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and children from the four nearby elementary schools.
"I knew there was a connection with me and the community, I could feel that for all the years," Moloney said. "But now this -- I really feel it. I don't know how else to describe it. It just warms my heart."
Three Naperville residents -- Judy Koziol, Debbie DelGrosso and Dee Dee Porter -- took it upon themselves to launch the event, but they said it quickly became a community effort.
"Whenever we talk to people, they're like, 'What can we do?'" Koziol told me. "If you tell someone about it, they say, 'Oh yes, I love Karen too.'"
So there are people volunteering to distribute flyers for the Dilly Bar Party, and people helping with logistics and Little League coaches spreading the word. There are people lining up the ice cream, hot chocolate and cookies that will be served.
"There are so many people who feel kind of vested or part of it," Koziol said. "The idea is that Karen feels the support from all these people and organizations that she has supported over the years."
For Moloney, it's keeping the issue of youth suicide front and center that matters most.
"To keep getting the word out, to just share it with your friends and neighbors, to keep the word going," she said. "Because that's what we have to do. Keep the conversation going."
She's right. And I'm grateful for the people in this Naperville community who have stepped up to help lead the conversation Moloney started.
No matter how divided this country might be, people come together when something's wrong. They respond. They take action. They look for ways to help.
They rush in.
And that simple fact should make us all feel closer.
If you can't make it to the event in Naperville on Sunday and you still want to help, an online donation page has been set up at www.dillybar.org.
(Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a noted hypocrisy enthusiast. You can email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @RexHuppke.)