Evan LaPointe met Audrey Roberts when he was only 3 years old.

She was a volunteer foster grandparent, and she would take care of Evan when his parents were out of town. "She would cook me food and everything and just spoil me like she was my own grandmother," Evan told Upworthy.


Evan and Audrey. Photo courtesy of Evan LaPointe.

Now Evan is 21, and Audrey is, astonishingly, 104. They're neighbors and have remained close friends.

As you can imagine, Audrey's life has been filled with 104 years of ups, downs, surprises, and heartbreaks.

With an eighth-grade education, Audrey worked for most of her life at a commercial laundry as a marker and checker. She never made more than minimum wage, but she cherished the hard work. Ultimately, she managed to save up about $200,000 throughout her career.

Audrey's husband, John, died when he was 70. Her only son, Earl, died in a car accident at 21. And just four years ago, Audrey broke her hip and had to spend six months in a physical therapy facility. Being away from her home that long was a heavy burden that weighed on her conscience and mental health. "Her overall mentality just got really negative," Evan remembers. "I mean, she was 100 years old. So she wanted to be in her home."

Today, fully recovered and fending for herself, she does laps around her living room to stay active and never misses her hair appointment every other Friday.

"She's doing great," Evan said. "I mean, 104 ... she's incredible."

Evan and Audrey now. Photo courtesy of Evan LaPointe.

But time and medical expenses have caught up with Audrey's savings.

No one could possibly plan to live to 104. So despite working hard for her entire life and living within her means, Audrey's savings has dried up, and her Social Security checks stopped covering her daily in-home medical care.

Soon, Audrey may have to face leaving her cherished home to live out her final years in a care facility.

But not if Evan has anything to say about it.

Evan created a GoFundMe campaign to help Audrey spend her last days in the home she's earned.

Audrey outside her home in Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Evan LaPointe.

It's an "urgent plea," he said — a plea to caring people everywhere.

"We just remember how hard it was [when she broke her hip] and just how she got mentally," Evan said. "So my brother brought up the idea of trying one of the GoFundMe's. We gave it a shot, and so far we’re doing pretty good."

As of this writing, Evan's GoFundMe has raised over $23,000 in just 11 days. All to "Keep Audrey Home."

"It’s really important to me and to all of us just to keep her home and keep her happy," Evan said. "That’s her last wish. When she passes, she wants to be in her home."

Almost 530 people have donated so far, and the campaign has even gotten the attention of GoFundMe CEO Rob Solomon.

"This campaign is very typical of what can happen on GoFundMe," Rob told Upworthy. "Our core purpose is to empower people to help people."

GoFundMe differs from other crowdfunding sites in that it raises money for causes. So while the campaign is designed to help one person, the motivation behind each dollar seems to be a larger, more systemic one. Many people see themselves or their loved ones in Audrey's face.

Photo courtesy of Evan LaPointe.

"One of our core values is helping to spread empathy," Rob said. "And I think what I’m seeing in the comments on this campaign is a lot of people are saying, 'Wait, this can happen to me.' ... So though it's just helping one person, it's really bringing awareness to issues. I think it's getting people involved in giving."

What are the issues forcing Audrey out of her home? Take your pick.

The rising costs of medical care. Failing government safety nets. For Solomon, it's income inequality at play.

"One stat that’s really staggering is that half of all Americans, if they had to come up with $400 for an emergency right now — can’t," Solomon said, citing an article this month in The Atlantic. "The income inequality problem in our country, and more importantly on a global basis, is really big. Perhaps getting bigger. ... Relying on government to come together and solve it, or nonprofits to solve it, I think is too daunting a task. It’s really local communities that have to band together to help people out when life hits them."

For Evan LaPointe, though, the issue is a simple one: dignity.

"Our goal is to touch the hearts of people who believe dignity is vital to life," says the GoFundMe page. And in my conversation with Evan, he brought up the subject multiple times.

Photo courtesy of Evan LaPointe.

"I’ll be the same way," he joked. "I hope I make it to 104, but I’ll be the exact same way. I mean, she loves her home and we don’t blame her at all for it."

Whatever reasons people have for donating to Evan's cause, he's already overwhelmed by the support and positivity.

"We’re always seeing negative stuff going around," he said. "But we’ve gotten a lot of cool things from people just saying, 'This is great what you’re doing.' Just seeing something positive and other people noticing it is really cool. I mean, we just wanna keep her home no matter what. We’re just doing whatever we can."

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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