Mental health and depression are still heavy subjects, also a bit taboo and with May being Mental Health Awareness Month we decided to highlight once more the work of a great charity that surely speaks to each and everyone of you.
In fact, at the end of 2016, we’ve had the opportunity to chat with Jonny Boucher, founder of Hope For The Day and it potentially led to one of the most inspiring interviews we’ve ever done. Truth is, we’re lucky enough to have a platform, and we feel the need to raise our voice again, to not only highlight the work of unbelievably selfless people but also to remind you that one person, one conversation can change your life. Having the chance to meet Jonny meant we could go further in to understand the organization and find out how it really works. It was important for us to start by learning more about the charity’s founder and how it all started. The story behind it is pretty unusual, as Jonny hadn’t really planned on starting and running a charity. But, as you’ll see life happened and one night, he decided to start Hope For The Day. It’s been a long road but today the organization keeps growing, always staying true to its roots and last November it celebrated a five-year anniversary.
The idea of Hope For The Day originated in 2009 when Jonny was backpacking in Europe, trying to fill a void and needing to do something different with his life. At the time he was doing concerts, artists management and many cool stuff but something didn’t feel right in his heart. In October of that year when he came back, a terrible snowstorm hit Chicago and he became depressed. Truth is, he was in a really bad funk, he didn’t know what to do with his life anymore, and he wanted to do so much he didn’t know how to do everything. Freshly graduated from college, it began with SXSW in Austin when he decided to put it out there. The phrase “Hope For The Day” comes from his first AOL screening. He had made a logo and was handing out business cards saying ‘Music Changing Lives’ although he admits he had no real idea what it meant. And it all came full circle in August 2010 when his old friend Mike (with whom he had worked before putting on concerts) took his own life. At the time Jonny was trying to make money by starting a business with his dad. Boucher explains ‘Mike was sort of like Robin Williams, the guy who we thought had everything, always had a smile on his face but deep down he had a lot of issues that was not talked about obviously.’ Jonny was completely taken aback by Mike’s passing and he started thinking of all the things he could do differently and make himself happy but it wasn’t happening. All these questions led Jonny to think more about the question of suicide, having in mind the thought ‘If Mike killed himself, there’s got to be others’.
It became very clear that he wanted to do things different and talk about it, he says ‘I think that for so long we as a whole, as a society and a world we’ve never been trained to talk about mental health, especially over here in Europe. I know so many people who told me they’ve always been told to cheer up, or don’t be a sissy.’
However the organization was only created in May 2011, a night when Jonny decided to start it all, filling the online forms of the State of Illinois to make a charity about suicide prevention and through music. He fundraised, filled the many paperwork, gathered the $1,400 needed to get it all started and Hope For The Day was approved as a charity in November 2011. Boucher actually jokes about the fact he doesn’t consider it a five-year anniversary, as he didn’t have a clue what he was doing through the first year (and luckily he has a great team)!
He recalls ‘It was all just to really change the conversation around suicide and do it in a way that I knew best, and that is through Music. Growing up all I ever wanted was to play music, listen to music, be around, draw and be creative. I never wanted to be a kid that you put in a box and told how to live my life. It was wild but thinking about it now, everyday still I’m learning new things about how to run the organization and how to do things differently, just pushing myself’. Jonny underlines the importance of setting yourself goals, push yourself to get it done and do what makes you happy as you are the only one in charge of your own happiness. He advises ‘at the end of the day [creating HFTD] proves that you can do anything that you want in this world and in this life. And you’re no one’s monkey, you should never feel like you have any restriction in life because if you do, you’re only setting one for yourself.’
The project was to be able to fund all the punk rock shows he was doing in Chicago and to provide a safe haven, a room for people to come and escape for a second. Creating the charity makes sense as Jonny always had in mind to help out others, and as he explains, first it was to help himself but now it has become about way more. It’s to help as many people as possible, and five year on he’s now managed to have a great team as part of the organization that constantly help Hope For The Day evolve.
Indeed, the goal of the charity is to help people and talk about suicide in a very artistic way and through music. As you know, Hope For The Day’s roots have always been in punk and hardcore so we were wondering if there was something particular to this scene, and questioned why it matters to keep doing tours like Vans Warped Tour or the NeverSayDie! in Europe. Jonny’s answer is simple as he compares it to a house with its structure, basement and then the foundation and rooms to fill up. Hope For The Day will always be a part of these tours because it’s where it comes from but at the same time it’s setting foundation to grow. The charity’s founder explains ‘You never want to lose sight of what got you there, but you also don’t want that to be your ceiling, you want it to be your basement’. And it’s sort of a life lesson too, to never lose sight of why you’re doing things and keep your roots but not let it stop you from growing. Hope For The Day’s founder really wants to always empower people and delegate so they can go forward. And although growing is a really important part to him, he’ll never close the shop until the tours don’t exist anymore. Regarding Warped Tour, he explains : ‘[Kevin Lyman] gave me a chance so I’m not going to be here once and be done with it. I want him to understand that we’re here for the long term because at the end of the day this is who I still am and you can’t ever lose sight of that.’
And so far it never stopped the charity to reach new levels and grow. As proof of the tremendous improvement Hope For The Day has made through its five years of existence, in the States they are now setting up their reach booth at country, hip hop, pop/punk shows, doing so many other shows and all these other things to just keep growing. Their feeling is always to wonder ‘where else can we do it?’ so they started taping in the health world as well, taking their message everywhere but never leaving their roots and where they’re coming from. Hope For The Day is also taking a new step as it is now a charity in Europe (based in Antwerp) and they’re focusing on doing various shows here and talking with Impericon and Avocado Booking to do more together in the continent and spread the message ‘It’s OK not to be OK’ as much as possible without having to wait for the Never Say Die! tour. To Jonny Boucher, it’s important to keep in mind why you started and have this sense of unity and support for people.
He tell us : ‘it’s still important to keep those tours because those are safe havens and for me, especially with it being the 1year anniversary of the shootings at Bataclan, last year was really hard for all of us to champion, come together and go to that show but I was like ‘Fuck! We’re gonna go to the show, we’ve got to be this sense of solidarity for people. We can’t let the enemy win. I think that it’s really important that charities keep in mind why they started.’
So, with music being at the heart of the non-profit organization, we’ve already met up with bands such as Neck Deep and Our Last Night asking them about their involvement with Hope For The Day from a band point of view. There it is also important to ask Jonny how everything works as a charity. He explains that it depends, as a lot of people want to get more involved and it’s really about how they’re willing to help their community by themselves.
The main idea is to always think outside the box, be creative especially when you want to work with artists. The organization wants to make it beneficial for bands, because it’s taking their time, resources and when they allow them to fundraise it’s taking money out of their pockets so they want them to feel comfortable. Jonny explains :
‘That’s why I spend so much time on tour where I just go out and speak, where we don’t have a booth and then I spend a lot of time just working with the bands asking them ‘next time when you’re touring, can we do this? Can we have a bigger activation? What are your thoughts?’ Because it’s still something we haven’t been trained to talk about as a society so it’s kind of hard to have people open with activate ideas and I also want them to be comfortable enough so it’s something they’re willing to push.’ In fact, every band is different, they don’t react the same but Jonny insists on the fact it’s important to him that the relationship between Hope For The Day and bands really is a give and take.
There are many examples of collaborations made between Hope For The Day and bands, who have a certain reach, amongst young fans. But what’s important to state is that Hope For The Day is now expanding its roots in Chicago and they’ve partnered with Live Nation, to get involved at their ring of concerts. At the top of his head he chooses the likes of 21Pilots, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga. He states: ‘I think that really anyone can help the cause, people like The Rock for instance. Dwayne Johnson is amazing at what he does. Actually anyone that serves an audience, any movie star… the door is always open. I definitely would love to accomplish some bigger tours with bigger bands eventually as part of the organization’s growth. We’ve worked with so many cool people thus far but there’s a lot of room and the door is always open for us to work with really anyone, though I’m always going for the bigger the better, the outside of the box.’
It’s true that with a cause such as suicide prevention it’s really important to think about the audience, how many people the artists can reach and how they can be helped. There is a strong influence of artists on their audience and fanbase so it obviously matters to Hope For The Day to use that as much as possible. Jonny explains ‘If we take influence from any big celebrity and we can help their audience well fuck it. That’s why I want people to know I work with Fronz from Attila. Why? Because he has a massive reach and I just want him to know what to do with kids that come up to him and say they need help. It’s important to know how to answer that, you can’t just write people off.’
It also underlined the fact that musicians and the Entertainment industry, as a whole doesn’t know how to respond in situations like that. It is true that it’s always a question of how do you reply to someone who tells you you’re an inspiration and you saved their lives? As a matter of fact, we had a chat last year with Caleb Shomo from Beartooth and he told us that it is indeed really hard as it’s very nice but also a lot of pressure on their shoulders because you don’t really think of that when writing a record. Jonny tells us ‘We, as the entertainers and the Entertainment industry need to know how to respond to people too and let them know that they got themselves through whatever they were going through (…) For bands, being an inspiration can feel like having the weight of the world on your shoulders and you shouldn’t have to.’
Apart from its work with bands and the Entertainment industry, the organization also has a strong motto and it is an important subject. We focused a bit more on it asking Jonny if, outside of his own story, anyone reinforced his will of changing things thanks to the organization. The charity’s founder says he always gives credit to Robin Harding, one of his mentors who runs a successful charity called ‘Cure Epilepsy’ in the States. In fact, she one day told him that she loved the energy and the idea behind Hope For The Day but she also thought it was a bit ambitious so she advised him to put a cap on it in case it doesn’t work, so he’ll be okay moving on. That day he walked out of her house and thought ‘We’re going to do this!’ Apart from his own mentors, he insists on the fact that he meets people all the time that kind of reinforce why he does all this, he adds ‘Every day there are so many people I interact with that make it more reasons. I have my personal list of people I’ve lost but so many kids come and talk to me saying ‘I’ve just lost someone’ and I’m happy that I can be there for them. I’m a sponge to them so everyone helps keep pushing. There’s never going to be a day when I decide to shut down the organization. Fuck that.’
Looking back on how the organization has evolved throw the years we can’t help but notice people are starting to be more open, talking about mental health. The organization’s founder admits that, just like Cancer or AIDS, mental health was very stigmatized and tabooed, thrown in the same dark corners. He adds : ‘People are only starting to talk about it more and the more people are going to talk about it, the more people are going to be open to it. That’s why I always say the more we talk about it, the more you’ll realize we’re not insane, we’re not crazy or fucked up, we’re humans and we’re going through a thing called life. We haven’t necessarily been told how to talk about these things so we have to give ourselves a little bit of credit. The more we open up about it the more we’ll realize that we’ve all struggled, we’ve all lost someone. Depression and the way we feel are actually pretty common. So many people feel like they’re alone and that’s not what you should feel at all.’
With Hope For The Day, Boucher aims to change the conversation around suicide in a different way, and through music. Its message is very simple and they can apply it to almost anything. The charity is based on a DIY nature and as Jonny explains it speaks more to people: ‘It doesn’t matter at the end of the day what genre it is, our message is very simple and we can apply to almost anything. And since our origins are in a DIY nature, people are even more open to it instead of it being the traditional mental health stuff which is very dry-chalk on the wall.’ Hope For The Day likes to push people outside of their boundaries and comfort zones, in a way that triggers them to be even more open to something they maybe weren’t before.
That’s why “The Humboldt Mile”, their partnership with Nike for instance, is a 1-mile run. People say it’s not that far but the charity challenges them asking how fast they can run it so it gathers all types of people: the motivated/dedicated runners and people who just want to walk a mile in honour of someone who’s passed. Jonny tells us “the idea is to show people that if you’re trying to make a change in your life it only takes one day, one phone call to get help, one conversation to impact someone’s life or just one dude named Jonny to get onstage and say ‘if you’re struggling well it’s OK not to be OK.’ That proves that talking and sharing really matters and it’s important not to judge people because you don’t know what they’re going through. It means a lot to share your story, talk about your problems because you will realize others are struggling just like you and you are not alone in this. One person, one conversation can be enough to change your life.
In order to wrap things up we asked Jonny about his motto in life and it turns out he’s one of those people who fear to not accomplish all the things he wanted to do. But just by seeing the impact he’s made with the organization, simply by an almost random thought one night, it leaves him wondering ‘what else is more?’
‘There are comfort zones but truly anything is possible until you tell yourself it’s not. And for me, I want to leave a small mark on this world. We need to realize we’re here for a small amount of time and you either use it or lose it. So you’ve got to keep on doing the things that make you happy because no one else can make you happy’. It turns out, Jonny believes that everything happens for a reason and to him, a big thing people need to do is learn acceptance. It’s about learning from your mistakes, accepting failures as it’s part of a process. He explains ‘in the political world we’re in right now, it’s so sad we need to go back to our roots. You get what you give and we need to learn how to give and to listen. It’s very sad, we’re missing out on a lot of life but there’s always time to change.’
But how we, as individuals can help spread the cause? The answer is simply that it only takes one person to start the conversation that will resonate with many. It’s having the ability to open your mouth because just like we’ve seen with the recent events, or as it is shown in Netflix’s hit show ’13 Reasons Why’ we often talk about suicide once it’s too late, when the crisis has happened. Keeping in mind that opening the conversation around suicide and making it easy to talk about is the only way to prevent a crisis and really meaningful to save lives. The conversation starts now.
Before we go, we’d like to dedicate this to everyone fighting hard to make the conversation around suicide a priority, to everyone helping out by sharing their stories and how they’ve overcome depression, to everyone currently struggling and looking for Hope, to all those who’ve lost someone to suicide and also to the ones who’ve sadly taken their own lives.
“I wrote this song as a message for help on behalf of anybody findin’ their-self. I wrote this letter to numb the pain ‘cause everyday I wake up, I’m feelin’ the same. I got issues just like you got issues. I been hurt, I seen the scar tissues. If I showed you, would you run away? ”
– Machine Gun Kelly // At My Best (ft. Hailee Stenfield)
Thanks Hope For The Day for having us on this stop of the Never Say Die! Tour, in Paris and for chatting with us about an important cause. This interview should be closing the series we’ve been running for about a year now and you can still check out our previous features regarding Hope For The Day’s work with bands from our scene and what it does for mental health education and suicide prevention :