STAFFORD, Va. (AP) — Travis Wolfe hasn’t been able to talk about that day, four summers ago, when his father died by suicide — and changed the lives of everyone around him.
Travis was 13 at the time, and it’s just been too painful to put the loss into words.
“I’ve talked about it to let people know it happened, but never in-depth,” he said.
Yet, when the 17-year-old considered what to do for his Eagle Scout project, his thoughts went to the most awful day of his life — and how he might help someone else avoid that agony.
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His dad, Richard “Rick” Allen Wolfe, spent a lifetime struggling with depression, and Travis wanted to let others in that situation know “there’s another way besides taking their life.”
The teenager is sponsoring a Suicide Awareness/Prevention Walk on Saturday, Sept. 23, at North Stafford High School, near the same ground where he’s played football and lacrosse. The event starts at 10 a.m. with a flag ceremony by the school’s JROTC and includes music by Tyler Plazio from the band Soldiers of Suburbia at 11 a.m.
Travis hopes several hundred people attend.
“If we can reach one person, it will be worth it,” said his mother, Monica.
‘MAKE YOUR DAD PROUD’
Travis will set up tables with water, suicide awareness bracelets and wristbands as well as pamphlets about everything from common misconceptions about suicide to dealing with its aftermath.
The North Stafford student especially wants to present options, such as counseling or support groups, for people suffering with depression or other types of mental illness.
Travis and his older brother, Chuck, have a lot of great memories of Cub Scout activities and fishing, hiking and hunting with their dad, an avid outdoorsman. The brothers have the cars they made with their father and entered in Pinewood Derby races.
Chuck’s 2-year-old son, Ryder, plays with them these days, and the Wolfe family looks forward to the day he can join Scouting.
But Travis also remembers the darker side of his father’s later years, when he struggled with addiction to alcohol and pills. As his anxiety levels increased, Rick Wolfe had more trouble coping with crowds of people and eventually withdrew from activities.
He was 49 when he died.
“I wanted a way to memorialize him,” Travis said, “and when I look back on my Eagle Scout project, I want it to be for something good.”
“So you can make your dad proud,” his mother added.
AN IMPORTANT CAUSE
Monica Wolfe calls her younger son an old soul, a gentle giant. Like his father, there’s nothing he’d like more than to spend time in a cabin up in the mountains.
While Travis doesn’t go into detail about the drastic impact his father’s death had on him, his mother does. She talks about the way his grades plummeted, and he couldn’t find anything to care about in school.
Travis and books were never best friends to begin with — he’s always preferred doing things with his hands. His mother is encouraged because he recently started talking about becoming a mechanic, either in the Army or Marines. He wants to work on tanks, jets or big trucks.
Throughout the past four years, the one constant in Travis’ life has been Scouting. He belongs to Boy Scout Troop 142, which is chartered by the Stafford chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America.
Lots of boys decide to build or clean up something for their Eagle Scout projects. Chuck Wolfe, who’s 22, adopted a nearby cemetery that he continues to maintain.
But the goal is community service, and Boy Scouts are turning more attention to suicide prevention, especially among teens, said Barbara Bendele, committee chair of Troop 142.
“Travis is on the cutting edge of this important social issue,” she said, adding that he’s spread the word through Stafford high schools and Boy Scout troops in the entire Aquia District, asking them to participate in the Sept. 23 walk.
Scouting for Food, an effort that started as an Eagle Scout project, has become a national event for Boy Scouts, and Bendele says “it would be amazing, powerful and poignant” if Travis began a campaign that also spread across the country.
It certainly is an important cause, she said.
“We have far too many loved ones,” Bendele said, “especially teens, die each year while they are battling depression.”
Information from: The Free Lance-Star, http://www.fredericksburg.com/