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Bainbridge family hopes to inspire conversations around difficult topics

Tyler Moniz Project looks to bring Coffee Oasis to Bainbridge Island

The Kitsap Sun, July 31, 2018


Tyler’s depression festered in the quiet, growing until it claimed him. The 21-year-old Washington State University student took his life a little over two years ago, the culmination of a hidden battle.

“We try to hear Tyler’s voice, what would’ve made a difference for him?” said Lee Moniz, Tyler’s mother. “He didn’t tell anyone, he was very quiet about the whole idea of having depression.”

Two years after his suicide, his parents, Jeff and Lee Moniz, of Bainbridge Island, are launching an effort to build the type of place they think would’ve helped their son. The Tyler Moniz Project – launched last year by Tyler's parents as a way of promoting conversations around depression and mental health – is looking to bring Coffee Oasis to Bainbridge Island.

Through the nonprofit they founded, they talked with Bainbridge youths over the last year, asking them what they needed. What the group has come up with is a coffee house where kids can relax, where they can enjoy time with their friends, where they can open up about what’s going on in their lives.


“We see a need,” Lee said. “We’ve been hearing from so many people how these kids are struggling. (Bainbridge is) a pressure-cooker. We’re willing to put in the time and energy to get this done and to do what is, I think, desperately needed in this community.”

The Tyler Moniz Project is looking to raise $2 million to buy a property near Bainbridge High School, renovate the site and get the location up and running. The operations side of the coffee house will be run by Coffee Oasis, the growing faith-based nonprofit founded in Kitsap County. While elsewhere the group has been known for its work with homeless youths, on Bainbridge it’ll be focused on attending to the mental health of those it comes into contact with, Lee said.


Like at its other locations, the Bainbridge shop will have a business side alongside social services for youths, said Daniel Frederick, director of community development at Coffee Oasis. The organization will offer job training and services like crisis intervention, mental health therapists and chemical dependency counselors, he said.

Frederick said Coffee Oasis is hopeful it can make a difference on the island, by encouraging compassion for youths who are suffering and raising awareness about their issues.

“In Bainbridge, there is a hesitancy to talk about issues,” he said. “There’s a desire to look like everything’s OK. I think there’s a lot of boldness with Lee Moniz and her friends to address an issue that really deeply troubles the community.”

The coffee house will primarily provide a place for high school and college students, Lee said, so her group hopes it’ll be open later: 10 p.m. during the week and until midnight on the weekends. There’ll be a front space where the public can come and drink a cup of coffee, have a bite to eat or sit and work for a bit. In a separate area, there will be dedicated space for youths to gather.

The kids and the community will decide how to use the space, Lee said, envisioning activities like trivia night or open mic night, a wall where youths could organize fun outings, space for yoga or art, where those using the space can talk and open up.

“A lot of things come from (when) you’re sitting side-by-side working on pottery or working on a painting that you start talking to someone, and it’s a casual environment, that you maybe can open up, rather than sitting one-to-one with a counselor,” she said.

The organizers said they’re looking for broad support on everything from painting to fundraising.

“We’re not looking for a couple people to fund this, we’re looking for the community to rally around it and support it together,” Frederick said. “We want Bainbridge Island to feel like this is their place.”

“I don’t know if this is the answer, but we’ve gotta do something,” Lee said. “And I’m hoping this is at least a step in the right direction of finding a way for these kids to open up and talk and normalize mental health instead of it being something separate.”

Remembering life in the wake of youth suicide

Bainbridge family hopes to inspire conversations around difficult topics

The Kitsap Sun - May 11, 2017

Tyler Moniz was a bubbly, outgoing youth. He was witty. He’d bound down the halls of his Bainbridge Island home and was quick to flash his signature thumbs-up sign.

“He was a chipper and happy kid,” said his mother, Lee. “But it was a façade.”

Behind the smile was a 21-year-old man struggling to balance his classes and the rest of his commitments at Washington State University. In April 2016, he took his own life.

Now, about a year later, Tyler’s parents, Jeff and Lee Moniz, have started a new nonprofit in his memory.  The Tyler Moniz Project is an effort to promote happiness and hope.

The group is in its early days, but its members hope to grow the project quickly. They’re forming a board to guide their efforts and initially are hoping to start conversations about depression and mental health.

“There are things that are so taboo culturally,” said Moniz family friend and group contributor Catherine Yalung. “You just have to say, ‘We’re going to talk about this.’”

The group is starting by promoting small acts of kindness on social media and out in the world. They recently made 100 ornaments, paired them with small cards that state “take me home as a reminder that you’re important to someone” and hid them around the island for others to find.

The nonprofit is also sponsoring scholarships in Tyler’s memory. Members hope to promote ongoing discussions about suicide and depression, especially in schools. Perhaps someday they might be able to fund research on the topics, group members said.

Tyler’s parents are hoping to educate students about signs of depression to look for in their peers, to let them know that telling an authority figure about a depressed peer isn’t ratting them out.

“You might save their life,” Lee said.

The rate of youths in eighth grade who reported seriously considering attempting suicide during the last 12 months has steadily increased in recent years up to about 20 percent in 2014, according to the most up-to-date Kitsap Public Health District data. That number was about 4 percentage points higher than the rate statewide that year. In 2015, Kitsap County’s suicide rate was higher than the state rate.

The idea for the nonprofit sprang up in the wake of Tyler’s death, as Jeff and Lee heard many stories about other families dealing with similar issues. Their eyes were opened to how many others on the island had gone through the same difficulties.

“They would relate their own personal stories,” Jeff said. “Without having this situation with trying to comfort us, we would have never known about it.”

With that knowledge, the parents saw an opportunity to help their community.

“We’re not going to solve it overnight,” Lee said, “but we obviously need to do something.”

Talk to your Kids about Well-being, Early and Often | Teenage Pressure Cooker
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
OPINION


We started the Tyler Moniz Project after our son died by suicide the day after his 21st birthday.
He was funny and kind, loved and healthy. He was surrounded by friends, and he couldn’t take it anymore.


We were blindsided. We simply could not understand how someone with so much love in his life could give up completely, in the most permanent way. It made no sense.


We’ve spent the past year trying to understand Tyler’s choices. He chose to show kindness, loyalty, and compassion to his friends and family. He simultaneously chose to struggle with depression alone. He chose to maintain a cheerful facade, telling his family what he believed they wanted to hear. He chose to keep his despair a secret. And he chose to take his life in the middle of the night.


After Tyler’s death, we looked at our own behavior hoping to identify the problem. We tossed and turned at night trying to find someone or something to blame. There was some bizarre comfort in that. We believed that if we could isolate the problem, we could fix it. But now we realize that it’s terribly difficult to solve a problem that is someone else’s secret. We came to the frustrating conclusion that Tyler was the only person who could have changed things. He might have diverted his thinking about suicide if he had simply talked about it. Conversations about tough topics can fracture shame, and have the power to change mindsets. We wish he had spoken to us, or anyone, really. So, through the Tyler Moniz Project, we want to start conversations.


There are so many three-word rules we give our kids: Brush your teeth. Do your homework. Eat your vegetables. Tell the truth. Call your mom. We need to add another: Talk about well-being. Children and young adults, especially, need to understand that while pain, frustration and sadness are normal parts of life, despair is different. It can lead to secrecy and shame, which is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. We need to talk, talk, and talk some more. We especially need to start a conversation with our kids about depression, the earlier, the better. Kids need to know that they deserve happiness. If they feel shame, unworthiness, or dread, it does not necessarily mean they are depressed. It does, however, mean that they need to say something. Had Tyler spoken more openly and honestly, perhaps we could have helped him get treatment and find his way back to well-being. At the very least, he wouldn’t have felt so alone.


We are not asking our community to fix the medical problems that lead to depression and suicidal ideation. That is work we hope to tackle one day, but it will have to wait.


For now, we are asking people, especially young people, to speak up when they are in the darkness of despair.


We are also urging our community to listen, show compassion, and act without judgment.
According to the American Foundation for suicide prevention, in 2017, on average, one person dies by suicide every eight hours in Washington state. Alarmingly, in Washington, suicide is the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14. It is the second leading cause of death for people between 15 and 34. The most wonderful people right here in our community can make the most devastating choices.


Resources exist for people feeling depressed or considering suicide. Bainbridge Youth Services is a wonderful example. For more than 50 years, BYS has provided free, professional, confidential counseling and intervention to young people and their families. The Tyler Moniz Project is partnering with BYS to host roundtables for young people who have been affected by the loss of someone special, or are struggling with emotional health issues themselves.


We also are pleased to direct people to the Crisis Text Line, a nationwide, 24/7, completely anonymous resource.


Nancy Lublin, founder of Crisis Text Line, reports that 30 percent of the texts it receives involve suicide and depression. Using word recognition technology, Crisis Text Line gives the highest priority to texts about depression and suicide. Their text number is 741741. Please use it.


We hope to honor our son’s selfless friendship and open heart through the Tyler Moniz Project. We are carrying out this mission, in part, by urging you to speak about your troubles with people who care about you.


Likewise, we encourage you to stand by people who struggle with depression and work with them to find help. Everyone deserves to be happy.


For more information, please visit our website: www.thetylermonizproject.org.


To join the Out of Darkness Walk, a suicide prevention awareness walk, on Bainbridge Island on Saturday, Sept. 23 go to www.afsp.org/kitsap. 


Lee Moniz is a registered nurse who has worked in the emergency room for the last 17 years. She lives on Bainbridge Island and has been a mom for 24 years.