JCK News vol. 1

Writer: Mike Esposito
Editor: Mike Esposito
Readers: Mike Esposito, John Tessitore
Producer: Mike Esposito
Photographers: Mike Esposito, Tom Murphy Sr.

Before we get rolling, a quick note on how we plan to communicate the Foundation’s vision in the future. Our Newsletter will be the place to track the progress of our expansion and impact on the mental health movement. Instagram is a great medium to engage in weekly initiatives, follow the backstories of the Foundation and stay updated on Collected Layers, our podcast and blog. We’ll use Facebook to organize events. Our digital real estate, JCKFoundation.org will always provide the backbone of our theory across initiatives and house all our content from stories about John Kelly, to this newsletter to Collected Layers. If you can’t find something you’re looking for or want to dig deeper, just shoot me an email — [email protected].  
I’d be lying if I said the website wasn’t a grey cloud hanging over our combined seven months of full-time employment. Everything had an extra hurdle and we ran over budget and over our projected timeline. We took away an ox worth of lessons but here’s two that stood out to me. One, when we needed to change course on process and personnel mid-project, we trusted people who took the time to learn the story of the Foundation. It paid dividends in culpability, dedication and clarity of communication. Two, switching hosting platforms (new GCP infrastructure) and adding a CMS layer (Wordpress) wasn’t without its growing pains, but resulted in a far more flexible piece of digital real estate that we can build on top of ad infinitum. Bonus: John and I have way more appreciation for copywriters now. There’s a ton of people to thank — check out the appreciation campaign we did on Instagram starting with this post.  
Before John started in November, I started digging through the Foundation’s financials, accounting, insurance, bylaws, contracts. I spent some time working in finance and on the finance side of political campaigns but a big shout out to Paul Tessitore, Elizabeth Stein, Frank Salandra and Tavy Smith for getting me up to speed. Can’t avoid the elephant on the page though, fundraising. The financials section of our website paints a great picture of what a dollar does at the Foundation, but here’s the reality. We got a large donation that allowed John and Dr. Kelly to hire me in June and John in November. Based on prior donations and expected fundraising and program revenue next year, we have about two and a half years of runway. Again, I’d be lying if I said fundraising didn’t keep us up at night. The longevity of this Foundation is our main concern. However, in true JCK fashion, the community has already responded — Legends Tournament captains led an online campaign that raised an extra $20,000 (on top of the $20,000 the community usually raises). A second softball tournament we sponsored in Queens raised $2,500 for the Foundation. A group of men, aptly nicknamed The Mud Boys, raised $3,500 at a ToughMudder in Jersey. Another $15,000 came in the door over the last month, unprompted but never under appreciated — we thank you deeply and appreciate the companies that matched individual donations. If you'd like to support as well, donate here.

The Mental Health Literacy Project at Brooklyn College and the JCK Clinic in Uganda have been the primary expenditures of the Foundation since its inception. Both are incredible projects that personally attracted me to volunteer and now work for the Foundation. I’ll stop here and thank Rose Bergdoll, Emily Meeks and Dr. Kelly for guiding my energy and reading on both topics. Dom Frabizio designed infographics on both web pages that spell out timelines, process and budget. I think that’s as great place to start absorbing the scope of both projects. Organizationally, we’re running into a tradeoff — do we fund more grants or shift resources to building out our Legends Program Offerings? The MHL Project at Brooklyn College was an opportunity where all the right pieces and personnel came together at the right time. Sifting through the thousands of local and national grant opportunities to find the next one would require a more robust and experienced decision making committee. We decided to extend our relationship with Brooklyn College (at no cost to us and for the time being) to help distribute the results of two years of surveying, research and writing. That distribution will be evident in the programs we bring to high school and college campuses and content partnerships within the educational community. We truly do believe that every student, parent, educator and resource provider in the high school to college pipeline would benefit from dissecting this research and even conducting a similar survey to map out the mental health culture on their campus (a part of our program offering). If I’m a supporter though, I’ve heard the Foundation talk about the “Brooklyn College Grant” and the JCK Clinic for a while — here’s the quick hits — funding the MHL Project was an intelligent use of donations from the get go as lead researchers forwent income and the majority of overhead expenses were waived by Brooklyn College. The results informed the decision to build John’s speaking tour into a mental health program with the potential for recurring revenue throughout the year as he joins full time. Researchers are submitting four final papers to four notable academic journals that should draw press attention in 2019. The JCK Clinic in Kabale, Uganda is partially funded by us to the tune of $8,000 per year and is operated exclusively by local Ugandans. We’re funding this work into the foreseeable future — there is indeed a John Kelly in every town.  
I would be nothing without John Tessitore, Allison Hartnett, Steph Olivieri and Kev Farrington guiding me though the community that has amassed over the past 6 years. Our core group of volunteers add 38 hours on any given week and contributed an estimated $48,614 worth of work in 2018. Another 57+ individuals lended a hand at other events and functions. For their continued dedication to the Foundation, we elevated Steph to our Strategic Event and Volunteer Coordinator and Allison to our Board of Directors. They were both behind the formation of our Event Committee that also includes Tommy Murphy, Courtney Noe, Allison Citelli and Kev Farrington. John also guided me through our community of donors who’ve kept the lights on for a long time. Those conversations refined the reality of and process behind how we can expand that pool of fundraising outside the Rivertowns community. In parallel, it exposed a wealth of ideas on everything from impact measurement to content production. I personally appreciate so many of you opening your homes or meeting us over a meal. We have a long volunteer wishlist and would love to chat about any opportunities you’re interested in — check out volunteer opportunities here.  
Legends School Programs
Just around September, we started thinking through what our approach to high school and college campuses would be. John and Dr. Kelly have already stepped foot on 35+ campuses around the country over the past six years. Most of those were hour long presentations that featured the documentary about John Kelly’s life, open Q/A sessions and occasional break out conversations with students and educators. After internally exploring our ideal vision of a “Legends Program,” we wrote the School section of our website, which explains at a high level what we think the process of working within high schools and colleges could look like. Our Program Overview is a more detailed version of that webpage (email [email protected] for access). We’ve sent it to eight early partner schools to preview eight meetings we held with those schools, all of which were opportunities to collect feedback on what was feasible from a mental health programming perspective at a diverse set of schools. We also held meetings with resource providers outside of our direct scope, like Margaret Rowan at the Early Childhood Center, Chris Baier, the producer of Unstuck: A Kid’s OCD Movie and an unbelievably helpful man named Mark Thompson. Mark was the Director of the Counseling Center at Colgate when John Kelly attended university there.  
Collected Layers
In the midst of all the other work swirling around these first six months, we dedicated free time to our passion project, Collected Layers. We changed the name from Doming Out for a few reasons but mostly so more people could readily understand the concept. We recorded 20 podcast episodes, recruited a volunteer blog editor, Mica Arbeiter and released our first episode featuring Dr. Kelly last Sunday. We hope Collected Layers is an extension of our Legends School Programs — a forum to share stories, strategies and data about the mental health movement to ensure we can be our own advocates and advocates for those around us.  
A note on the term “Mental Health”
I can’t speak for anyone else but I’ve heard so many passionate arguments to revise and clarify the term “mental health.” As a Foundation, we separate mental health into mental illness and mental wellness — we are afraid of voicing neither, both can coexistent and both have a litany of roots and misconceptions buried deep within. Both also deserve a far broader discussion than possible here. I personally use a range of terms and try to feel out what the other person or group is comfortable with. Ultimately though, I know that only 7% of students surveyed in the MHL Project endorsed avoiding stigmatizing language as a path to ending the stigma of mental health. Use what you feel comfortable with and don't apologize for it. But if you don't have a strong stance on it, meet somebody in the middle.  
Projects that might not happen...
This is a direct plea for any connections at the NYC Marathon organizing committee or any filmmakers who are interested in collaborating on a documentary. Both are projects that looked promising just weeks before and have fell through since. Email [email protected] if you might be able to help us out!  
An Ending Note
We’ll always end on a happy note. Here’s a short story John Tessitore wrote about John Kelly titled “The Banned Brothers of Wrestlemania.” You can find more like it here. From an early age, John was always seeing the light in others. When playdates were a thing, John was a bit of a trendsetter. Not only would he hang out with his “lunch table” crew, but he would constantly branch out to hang with other members of his class, ones that were typically overlooked. Maybe they were shy, maybe something larger was working against them. He’d befriend these classmates, helping them feel comfortable enough to come out of their own shells. I remember he would let “banned” little brothers join in on Wrestlemania parties. Something we never had the privilege of until John invited us. His love for the underdog was tried and true.