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Friends of suicide victim set bigger goal for fundraiser

Teens dance sounds 'Heavy Metal Friends' last summer's inaugural Party Park fundraiser Batavia. The second Party Park is planned for

Teens dance to the sounds of "Heavy Metal and Friends" at last summer's inaugural Party in the Park fundraiser in Batavia. The second Party in the Park is planned for July 21 as a fundraiser for Suicide Prevention Services. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: August 11, 2012 6:04AM

A team of young supporters determined to make a change are bringing back “Party in the Park” to raise money for Suicide Prevention Services of America.

“Our fundraising goal is $10,000 — an ambitious goal for an event run completely by teen volunteers,” said Emily Roberts, event co-founder.

Roberts and Ben Minnis, graduates of Rosary High School and Marmion Academy who intern at Suicide Prevention Services, organized Party in the Park last summer after losing a friend to suicide.

Ben Wilkinson, 17, of Batavia, was a popular Marmion senior, ready to graduate with a full ROTC scholarship in hand, when he committed suicide in January 2011. Roberts and Minnis felt more should have been done after their friend’s death to help students at Marmion and its sister school Rosary deal with the tragedy.

“Ben was truly a good friend,” said Mary Wolff, who attended the council meeting. “Sadly, he suffered from depression and nobody knew about it. Although it is not something that can be changed, we can do something about raising awareness of depression.”

Roberts said last year’s Party in the Park raised more than $5,000 for Suicide Prevention Services and $900 for a Ben Wilkinson memorial scholarship fund

This year’s event will be at 5 p.m. July 21 along the Batavia Riverwalk at Houston Street and Island Avenue in downtown Batavia. Admission is $5. Organizers have added a silent auction, musical concert featuring the band Hanwell of Iowa City and a 5K run at 6 p.m. Race admission is $25. There will be games for children, and local vendors will donate a portion of their proceeds to Suicide Prevention Services.

“Unfortunately, we have received word that Suicide Prevention Services is facing the reality of budget cuts,” Roberts told Batavia aldermen this week.

Stephanie Weber, Suicide Prevention Services executive director, said the nonprofit organization is facing the financial issues many agencies and businesses are confronting.

“For the third time in 14 years, we are looking to reduce staff pay to either three or four days a week. We will continue to stagger our hours to be here five days a week — we cannot have a suicidal and/or depressed person come to our building and find a locked door.”

Weber said the suicide hotline will not be affected, but she said the organization is looking for volunteers or donations. Weber said the upcoming Party in the Park will help.

“The enthusiasm and energy shown by Emily Roberts and Ben Minnis is unbelievable,” she said. “As survivors of a friend’s death by suicide, they have channeled their grief into activism. ... I cannot praise the efforts of these two leaders enough.”

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