Making a difference: Benefit to raise money for mental health cause

Published 7:01 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

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As organizations struggle to find answers to the growing mental health crisis, an Austin couple with an unfortunate and intimate connection to the harmful effects of depression are doing their part to raise awareness and funds.

Don and Marsha Leathers, along with help from Sonya Dolan, VFW Post 1216 manager, are hosting a Mental Health Awareness Benefit from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16 at the VFW.

The night will include live music by 507 Country, live and silent auctions, a raffle, brats and burgers. All proceeds from the night will go toward southeast Minnesota mental health facilities.

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“This is just a small thing,” Don said. “We’re not going to be able to hire a psychologist or put beds in, but if we can make a difference and help some kid or adult, that’s a start.”

The benefit takes place over two years after the Leathers — Don and his wife Marsha — lost their own son, Michael, in January of 2021.

The couple remembers the struggle to find Michael help leading up to the tragic moment and see it as a driver to help in some way.

“Our son Mike was looking for an inpatient facility and found one … in Seattle, Washington,” Don said, angry at the lack of options for his son and others. “That’s despicable.”

That is indicative of a system plagued by red tape and just one of the many struggles of the overall crisis, organizers said.

“There’s not enough funding for people to work and have places to go where people can help,” Dolan said. “Even with homeless people, there’s not enough opportunity to have someplace for these people to go.”

“We don’t know how much it hurts,” Marsha added. “It’s very painful for these people.”

Organization of the event started around mid-summer and since then work has been virtually nonstop.

So far, the effort has garnered 58 businesses supporting and donating items to the cause in an effort to raise the funds. Donations have included everything from parts of the menu all the way to items for both auctions.

And the items haven’t just come from Austin. It’s been a regional effort with some of those 58 businesses being based in Glenville, Albert Lea and Hayward. Even those coming to the VFW are getting involved.

“I have customers who are getting together with other people to make a basket because they feel it’s a good cause,” Dolan said.

While the night will be devoted to this single cause, the organizers feel that more can come out of the benefit. That it can be a beacon for others to take up the baton and do something similar.

“I think there are so many people out there that want to do stuff, but they don’t know how to go about it,” Dolan said. “I feel like this is something that’s beneficial to everyone. I feel everyone knows somebody that’s going through depression and anxiety.”

It’s also Dolan’s hope that this can be a launching point for a yearly benefit.

“Part of being a non-profit organization is we should be doing a fundraiser once a month,” Dolan said. “September is Suicide Awareness Month, I think this is a great kick-off to do something every year.”

While the Leathers still think about their son every day, they also point out that this benefit isn’t just about Michael. It’s about helping a far ranging cause to bring awareness and support to something that is now, unfortunately, part of everyday life.

“As a society we’re being forced to come to grips with these issues,” Don said.

While the goal is to raise money for this cause, the Leathers and Dolan also have a desire for people to come out and just enjoy themselves.

“We hired a band because we just didn’t want to have a silent auction. A raffle,” Don said. “We wanted people to come and have fun and have some drinks and mix with each other.”

“We want it to be a fun event,” he continued. “I hope this place is just bulging.”