By ERIN ROLL
Jared Zimmerman’s family and friends remember him as an adventurer who once convinced his siblings to go with him on a midnight hike on a family vacation, and who always had throngs of friends over after school.
In the last years of his life, until his death in 2016, the Montclair High School graduate fought a battle with mental illness.
Now, Jared’s family has launched the Jared’s Fund Youth Fellowship. It provides funding for high school students who want to pursue projects that explore aspects of mental health, especially among teens and young adults.
Jared’s two younger siblings, Gabe and Brianna, and their parents, made the announcement at the high school about the fellowship’s launch on Monday, April 15, the third anniversary of Jared’s death.
“It’s been really, really incredible to see all these people gathering around,” Brianna said. “It feels like they’re ‘I know someone.’”
MHS Principal Anthony Grosso said he believes the fellowship’s mission is critical to advancing the health, specifically the mental health, of MHS students.
“Our teachers and administrators know well the leadership and creativity young people can bring, and the need and interest to have this directed at the challenges posed by mental illness,” he said.
The family first met with members of the Civics and Government Institute and the Center for Social Justice to gain support.
Students will now have the opportunity to apply for $2,500 stipends to work on projects over the summer. Within a day of the April 15 launch, the fellowship had received five project proposals, Gabe said.
Proposals include creating a list of area psychologists and psychiatrists who would be willing to work with Montclair High School students, especially those without health insurance, or who don’t have access to a therapist. Other students suggested getting the Montclair Film Festival and other arts organizations involved, or doing research on state policies on mental health advocacy.
Another proposal involved the mural restoration planned for the Chestnut Street trestle bridge. Two murals were originally painted following a 1995 shooting at the post office on Watchung Plaza. Gabe said the students suggested using one side of the bridge for a mural drawing attention to mental health.
When Jared was in high school, he began showing symptoms of mental illness. It was a long, often difficult fight, both for him and for the rest of the family, his siblings said.
Jared died April 15, 2016 at the age of 20, and his family said his death was the result of his mental illness. At the time, he was finishing his first year at Bard College in New York.
Jared, Gabe and Brianna all grew up in Montclair, and moved through the school system, starting with the Montclair Community Pre-K and graduating from MHS.
Jared was active in the Civics and Government Institute and the track team.
Gabe said that in addition to his brother, he had others in his life who died as a result of mental illness, from both death by suicide or an accidental drug overdose.
The mental welfare of children and high school students, especially in the areas of anxiety, depression and risk of suicide, have been a topic of increased discussion in recent years.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness states that one in five children and teenagers will have a mental illness. Among teens between the ages of 13 and 18, 11 percent have a mood disorder and eight percent have an anxiety disorder.
A 2017 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 31 percent of children and teenagers ages 12 to 17 had experienced at least one period of depression, lasting at least two weeks.
The family hopes that the fellowship will encourage people to have an open conversation about mental health and illness, and help do away with some of the stigma surrounding the subject.
“It would really be nice and wonderful if folks remembered him for the person he was, and not just for the illness,” Gabe said. “I know he wouldn’t want to be forgotten.”
Students interested in applying for fellowship funds may do so online at JaredsFund.com through 5 p.m. on May 12. Projects chosen to receive fellowship funds will be announced in June.