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Richardson: 'We want to inspire conversations'

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson speaks about the importance of mental health awareness in showing his support for the Do It For Daron initiative (Photo by Tieja MacLaughlin/Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
Amid their grief and personal tragedy, Luke Richardson and his family have inspired a powerful community movement.

And today, the Ottawa Senators assistant coach offered a heartfelt public invitation to everyone in the capital region to join them in bringing the issue of youth mental health and suicide through Do It For Daron (D.I.F.D), the grassroots initiative started in memory of his 14-year-old daughter, who took her own life in November.

"We need to change the culture of this topic and make it okay to speak about mental health and suicide," Richardson said at a news conference at Scotiabank Place unveiling a number of components of the D.I.F.D. program. "We want to inspire conversations ... reach out to someone, be it a friend, a family member or a student. Let them know they can speak with you about how they are feeling. Let them know that you will be there for them.

"We have to make an effort. We have to make a difference. We have too much to lose."

Richardson and his wife, Stephanie, have chosen to speak publicly about Daron's death "because we want to make a difference in people's lives." Their own devastating loss educated the Richardsons about the need to "have that conversation."

"Our own lack of knowledge (about the subject) has put us in this path of disbelief, sorrow and despair," he said. "It is filled with never-to-be answered questions and pain."

The Richardsons announced a personal donation of $100,000 to the Daron Richardson Fund established by the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, matching the totals it has raised to date. The fund is targeted toward an early identification and intervention program for youth mental illness and suicide. More than 500 donors have made contributions to the Daron Fund.

"Do It For Daron represents a community movement to harness energy and action to help youth move from feeling sad to feeling empowered," said Tim Kluke, the president of the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. "Involvement brings empowerment., empowerment brings action and actions brings change ... We need to continue to break down the stigma around mental illness and eliminate the silence."

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who's been involved in a Royal Ottawa awarenes campaign entitled 'You Know Who I Am' for more than three years, said he "looks forward to a time when a young person won't be afraid to reach out for help and we as a society will be there and we'll be ready to listen, to help and to offer hope."

D.I.F.D's plans include a Purple Pledge Day on Feb. 8, which would have been Daron Richardson's 15th birthday. School classes and minor sports teams across Ottawa have already thrown their support behind what will become an annual campaign.

"We're asking you to wear purple, Daron's favourite colour (on that day)," said Kluke. "We're asking school groups, office groups, businesses, any organization to register and raise funds for the Daron Fund."

The Senators and the Sens Foundation also unveiled an initiative of their own, the first Do It For Daron Youth Mental Health Awareness Night. It will be held Feb. 26, when the Philadelphia Flyers visit Scotiabank Place. Senators president Cyril Leeder said that game was chosen "because of Luke's longstanding friendships and connections with the Flyers," who sent a large contingent to Daron's memorial service held on Nov. 17.

On that night, players on both teams will wear puple heart D.I.F.D. helmet stickers -- designed by friends of Daron's -- with special D.I.F.D. merchandise available for sale throughout the building, including purple wristbands and 500 "mystery pucks" autographed by every Senators and Flyers player. The wristbands have already made their way around the league, Leeder said, with players on a number of teams showing their support by wearing them.

"The Senators and the Sens Foundation felt this was the right opportunity for us to show our responsibility and leadership as an organization," said Leeder, "and to encourage others to get actively involved in awareness campaigns such as this to help educate our fans, both young and old, while inspiring conversations throughout the community on mental health issues."

Leeder also announced Senators Sports & Entertainment and the Sens Foundation, "along with the support of our fans and partners," will pledge an additional $100,000 to the Royal Ottawa for its early identification and intervention program for youth.

"Next to accidents, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Canada for youth ages 15-24," said Sens Foundation president Danielle Robinson. "We want to change these statistics."

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