Through sharing Katie’s story, Gina learned of many other stories similar to hers, and heard the pain of those who have lost someone they loved to suicide or who experienced depression themselves.
"As parents, we can hardly think of anything worse than surviving our own child. What I remember most about that night I got the call is sobbing in the waiting room, and thinking how much I wanted Katie’s life to count. I think it is easy for us all to go through times in our life that we feel like we don’t matter. We can feel buried in our emotional pain until we aren’t able to see light anymore. When we can’t see light, we begin to only see the pain, and sometimes the only way out that we see is death." ~Gina Casner
Chronically Strong Is Born
It all started with a promise that a mom (Gina) made to her daughter (Katie) to not let her story end in pain, but to redeem her tears and make sure that her story was shared to help others.
By November 2019, Gina was looking for a way to honor Katie's life on the one year anniversary of her death. She came across an article of a woman in Portland, Oregon who had begun the Don't Give Up Signs Movement in response to the youth suicide rate in her area. The day before Thanksgiving that year, Gina had a Zoom conference with Founder, Amy Wolff. It was decided that Gina would purchase 'Signs of Hope' closer to April 2020 in memory of Katie to spread hope in Central PA.
But like most things in life, when it comes time to do a new thing, Gina shrunk back and got nervous that no one would want to put a sign in their yard. She had nearly decided to abandon the whole project, ashamed of not keeping her promise to Katie, when the COVID-19 Pandemic shut the entire community down in March 2020. Deciding that people needed hope more than ever, for the next couple of months, Gina placed over 350 'Signs of Hope' throughout Central PA, in six different counties.
By May 2020, weeks after the sign project, the promise Gina made to Katie that night in the hospital kept echoing in her ears, “I will make sure your life counts.” Gina knew in her “mom heart” that Katie’s story would be able to help so many others find the healing that she was not able to find. Gina knew without a doubt that it is her job as Katie's mom to continue to carry her story forward---but how?
Gina was convinced that it was not enough to spread hope, but that something needed to change in mental health and the way society went about suicide prevention. She filed paperwork to officially become Chronically Strong (part of Katie's Instagram handle).
For the rest of 2020, Gina thought about what it would take to bring the community something unique that could help people outside of the traditional mental health system, and provided the most access to the most people. Finally, in February 2021 she got a few acquaintances together with similar concerns, and the first official Board of Directors for Chronically Strong was formed.
During 2021, the group struggled to define the vision, mission, values and bylaws for the new organization. They held six mental health awareness events while they continued to understand what Chronically Strong really is about. The challenge before them was immense, and the resources few.
Just when Gina was giving up hope that anymore would be accomplished, she received the notice in the mail telling her that Chronically Strong had finally been given 501c3 nonprofit status. The 7-month long wait was over, and a renewed sense of commitment bubbled to the surface.
Chronically Strong Now
Chronically Strong believes that hope, healing, and mental health can be found by strengthening the community. This includes those going through crisis, those experiencing chronic mental illness, and the family members who support them.
No parent, spouse, sibling, or friend should be alone supporting those they love who are hurting because of mental illness. No person experiencing a mental health crisis should feel alone, lost, or as if they are a burden.
At Chronically Strong we know that by connecting to support people grow stronger. We are educating our community on how to talk about the untalkable, loving people where they are at through peer-led support groups, and providing ways for the community to connect and build hope together.