They say when bad things happen, there is a good thing hiding behind the angst, behind the tears. This good thing is often called a silver lining, a break in the clouds.
The clouds did eventually break for JacQuan Winters after his 11-year-old sister, Kristen Amerson, committed suicide. Through that break in the clouds, the Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation was born.
“I had the idea for this foundation while I was working as a juvenile probation officer,” said Winters, founder and executive director of the foundation. “I wanted to do a scholarship in Kristen’s honor, but then I just decided to turn it into a nonprofit and give out the scholarship through that. Our mission is to promote healthier lives for youths and provide appropriate resources for suicide prevention and positive educational experiences.”
Winters and his team achieve this mission by partnering with others. They work with Tuscaloosa City Schools and provide social and emotional learning programs.
“We do suicide prevention training in the community, which teaches people how to recognize the signs of depression. We also teach how to ask somebody if they’re contemplating suicide, how to seek help for someone who is, and we connect those people to resources that can help them,” Winters said.
Like many other entities, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the foundation’s operations.
“During the COVID pandemic, we weren’t able to be hands-on with the schools. So we created these mental health backpacks filled with journals, coloring books, lists of coping skills, positive affirmations and stress toys that can be tailored to any age,” Winters said.
Winters is planning an in-person fundraiser. The organization will hold its third annual Strike Out Suicide bowling event on Saturday, Oct. 30 at Bowlero Tuscaloosa.
“This will be our major fundraiser and awareness event of the year,” Winters said. “I hope many come out and support the Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation. The Alabama Power Foundation is sponsoring this event. I am very excited about the relationship we have with the Alabama Power Foundation. They are a true supporter of worthy causes.”
Winters found his purpose when he founded the Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation. Despite her death being the most painful event of his life, he sought a way to help the younger generation.
“I do this because it’s a labor of love for me. Every day I wake up thinking about how Kristen didn’t get the opportunity to live out her purpose. I feel that through her death, I can find purpose and turn something that’s a tragedy into something positive,” Winters said. “She didn’t get to live out her purpose. My goal is to help kids find their purpose because I believe that in life, if we find our purpose, all the things we go through aren’t bigger than our purpose.”
This purpose drives Winters every day. “I know that even after I’m gone, Kristen’s legacy will live on, saving lives and touching people,” he said.
Visit the Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation website to learn more or donate. The foundation has ways you can help be part of that silver lining.