The Jared Monroe Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering awareness, understanding and support for bipolar disorder, held its inaugural gala on Thursday at The Oaks Club in Valencia.
Jared Monroe, a West Ranch High School graduate, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed suicide a year later.
The gala was held on his 22nd birthday to celebrate him and benefit the foundation because Jared “had a passion to help people and be a social worker,” said Robin Monroe, Jared’s mother.
“So here we are, we are going to continue his passion, make his dreams happen and help other people,” Robin said. “One of the biggest things I want to do for him is normalize mental illness. I hate that it was my son, but in some ways, it was good that he was so well-liked and normal that it’s an example that it can happen to anyone.”
More than 125 guests were served dinner as guest speakers, including Dawnel DeRubeis, an American Suicide Prevention volunteer, and Deborah Rocha, executive director of SRD~Straightening Reins, discussed how they’ve been affected by mental illness.
“Healing is a journey, and it’s my journey every single day,” DeRubeis said. “I live with depression, anxiety and chronic suicidal thoughts. I am an open book who will share my story with anyone who will listen because I want to be the change in someone who struggles and may be in a dark place. I know that mental illness does not discriminate … It is possible to be the strongest person on the face of this Earth and fight through mental illness, but I also know there’s hope and light … And I know there’s no shame.”
Every year since Jared’s death in 2017, the foundation has given out two academic scholarships to those with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses, totaling $12,000, and this year, one scholarship was awarded during the gala.
“I want them to know they can succeed with depression, bipolar, mental illness,” Robin said. “I can’t give them a lot, but I want them to know I believe in them. Out of great sadness, wonderful things can happen — we can do good things. That’s a hard lesson, but I’ve learned it.”
Each scholarship is typically at least $2,300, because 23 was Jared’s football number, but this year, all of the proceeds from the event, including the silent auction and 50/50 raffle, went toward the amount awarded.
After Daniel Rodriguez, a USC student and one of the first recipients of the scholarship, shared his story about his own struggle with bipolar disorder, Robin surprised him by awarding him with a second scholarship “because I had no money the first time around,” Robin said.
“While many will and many have labeled me as ‘bipolar’ and nothing more, I don’t hold it against them — they just don’t know better,” Rodriguez said. “I’d like to emphasize the difference between, ‘I am bipolar’ and ‘I am a person with bipolar disorder’ … I’m so many more things than just bipolar. Being bipolar does not dictate my life nor does it limit my life. I’m one of the many that have proven that you can have a meaningful and fulfilling life with bipolar disorder. It may not be easy, but nothing worthwhile is.”
At the end of the night, Chloe Weigel, an Arizona State University student who suffers from depression and whose mother has bipolar disorder, was awarded this year’s scholarship, totaling $23,000 after an anonymous donation.
For more information on the Jared Monroe Foundation, visit jaredmonroefoundation.org.