On Halloween night, the Kyle Hyland Foundation for Teen Support will be holding a teen dance party. All proceeds from the event will go to developing a local teen center named after Kyle Hyland, the Benicia High junior who took his life in December.
The event is another step to raise money for a center where teens can not only hang out but also provide a place to receive help from peers and counselors with any stress or anxiety issues they are dealing with. Hyland’s mother, Barbara Gervase, said she had the idea to set up a foundation in her son’s name as she was planning for his services shortly after his untimely death.
“It was a pretty quick thought because of everything that had gone on for him in his years as a teenager,” she said.
One of the main goals of the Kyle Hyland Foundation has been to promote awareness of suicide rates among teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second largest cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 34. A 2013-2014 California Healthy Kids Survey showed that 21 to 22 percent of 9th and 11th graders at Benicia High School answered “Yes” to the question of whether they had seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months. Benicia designated the week of Sept. 7-13 as National Suicide Week.
Gervase set up the site KyleHyland.com to be a one-stop resource on statistics pertaining to mental health and suicide awareness.
“There’s a lot of confusion about suicide prevention, mental health awareness and all the stress and problems our teenagers face on a daily basis,” she said. “If we can educate the greater community on those issues, it will only help the kids be able to thrive.”
To help bring more emotional support to Benicia’s teens, Gervase’s goal is to open a teen center in her son’s name with plenty of activities geared toward high schoolers. Gervase says her vision for the center is a place where teens can play table tennis or pool, watch movies, play video games, perform music and create art, among other things. She feels that the center would provide a good place for teens to hang out, something she feels Benicia is lacking.
“We have things for young kids, adults and senior citizens, but we don’t really have a whole lot for teenagers to do, especially those who don’t drive” she said. “There’s no movie theaters or mall. Kyle would frequently say ‘I can’t wait to get out of Benicia because there’s just nothing to do here.’ I hear that from a lot of other kids as well.”
Gervase feels that having a teen center would be a good way to get teens off the street and have a place to destress and not feel pressured by school work. Additionally, she feels the center would provide support for troubled teens and give them people to talk to.
“We think it’s important that kids have contact with caring adults in the community,” she said. “There’s a problem with connectivity at the high school, and it’s important for kids to know that adults care about them.”
The center will provide counseling and mentoring programs to support teens. Gervase also says that there are plans to have educational workshops on mental health awareness, suicide prevention, child development and coping with stress.
Gervase is still looking for a space to hold the center, which she would ideally like to be between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet. The closest she’s found has been the in the Benicia Youth Center on West K Street, next to the James Lemos Pool.
“They have 1,000 square feet that are being used as a storage room on the bottom floor,” she said. “It’s enough to get us started, but ultimately we’re going to need a bigger space than that.”
To help raise funds for the center, Gervase started a crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring.com. As of press time, the project has raised over $17,000 online. Gervase says she has also received additional donations from local restaurants and the Benicia High P.E. department.
Additionally, Gervase will also be holding a Halloween benefit dance party intended strictly for teens.
“I was looking at availability at the Clock Tower, and the only night that was available was Halloween on Saturday night,” she said. “We thought it would be a good way to give back to the kids and give them a safe place to stay together and have fun.”
The event will feature a performance by local indie rock band Echoes of Absence from 8 to 9 p.m. Afterwards, there will be a DJ spinning records from 9 to 11 p.m. There will also be a lip sync contest with a $50 iTunes gift card prize, photo booth, silent auction and lounge area where teens can watch black and white horror movies. All proceeds will benefit the Kyle Hyland Foundation for Teen Support.
Gervase says her main message is for kids to feel supported.
“I don’t want anyone to ever have to suffer the way we have with the loss of a child,” she said. “You’ve got to watch your kids and make sure they’re not stressed and they’re not suffering from anxiety. If they are, you need to get them the help that they need.”
The Halloween Dance Party will be held from 8 to 11 p.m., Oct. 31 at the Clock Tower, located at 1189 Washington St. The event is open to Benicia High and Liberty High students and their guests between the ages of 13 and 19. Tickets are $10 per person and available at KyleHyland.com through Oct. 28. For more information on the Kyle Hyland Foundation, suicide prevention and the teen center, go to KyleHyland.com.