A family well-known to the Ottawa County business community and car shoppers can attest to that, but instead they are turning their own tragedy into a regional initiative to bring awareness to the issue and create something positive out of it.
The Elhart family of Holland is behind the Be Nice program spreading into schools throughout West Michigan.
Wayne Elhart, owner and partner of the Elhart Automotive Campus, took his own life in March 2015. He was 60.
Instead of hiding the cause of his death, which would certainly be understood, the Elhart family instead is using it to bring awareness to suicide and mental health. We applaud them.
The family has partnered with more than a dozen local organizations to host a series of screenings of a movie that explores the feelings of anger and guilt experienced by those who have lost someone to suicide.
Jeff Elhart has been very open about his brother’s mental health. For a story in the Holland Sentinel in June 2015, Jeff said Wayne had been struggling with depression since 2010, when he retired and the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler had thrown him into an emotional dark place.
"It's such an internal disease that it's left up to the loved ones to do the diagnosis," Jeff told the Sentinel.
Although Wayne sought help, received medication and found hope, the depression returned in the fall of 2014, Jeff said.
"Afterwards, we were very curious to know more about the illness of depression and suicide," Jeff said. "As we learned more, we just thought that it was time to educate all of ourselves and our community — because depression is treatable and suicide is preventable with education."
The Elharts’ Be Nice program focuses on suicide and mental health awareness, and reportedly reached more than 26,000 students in Ottawa County by the end of last year. It’s expanding into Muskegon County this year.
We salute the Elhart family for its well-founded intentions of creating something good out of a dark day.
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