BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — “No one should lose their child this way.”
That’s a mantra for Nicola Licata, the founder of Christian’s Corner Found-ation, named for her son, Christian Jones, who was stationed in Alaska with the Army when he took his own life on December 7, 2020.
A 2014 Anthony Wayne High School graduate, Jones was dealing with anxiety and far away from the support he needed.
In 2021, 519 active military service members died by suicide, while veteran suicides continued at the rate of 17 per day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Licata wants to make an impact on that number.
“We have to draw attention to the plight within society and take fresh steps on how we combat it,” said Licata.
That’s the impetus for the Christian’s Annual Run for Life 5K Run/Walk in Support of Mental Wellness. The third annual event will be held on Saturday, September 16 at 8:00 a.m. at Dana Headquarters, 3939 Technology Dr. in Maumee.
The event – held during National Suicide Prevention Week – will feature Carmen Miller singing the national anthem, Bill Poiry playing the bagpipes, a performance by Gravity Dance Co. and a butterfly release in memory of loved ones.
Revitalize Fitness, a veteran-owned Maumee gym, will host fitness competitions with a three-month membership as a prize.
“Working out together gives these men and women an opportunity for camaraderie and to share stories about their experiences – and that’s good for their mental health,” Licata said.
Members of the Ohio Army National Guard 323rd Military Police Company will once again lead the 5K and bring military vehicles for guests to check out.
Representatives of Veterans Matter, the Veterans Service Comm-ission, Hooves and other community outreach programs and vendors, such as Task Force 20, will be set up in the Dana parking lot.
Last year, Christian’s Foundation supported two equine-assisted programs for veterans and their families to transition successfully into civilian life – Hooves and Little Blessings – as well as Honor Flight and other veteran programs.
Hooves founder Amanda Held said the donations last year allowed two veterans to complete the program and to purchase a bike for the Miles 2 Freedom project, in which veterans do long-distance bike riding in a six-month program.
“If Christian could have been involved with this, he would still be here,” said Licata, who completed a Hooves program this summer in order to understand the organization better.
“It’s not just horses – it’s lessons taught in the classroom about mind management and learning to reprogram how you handle your trauma. The horses sense that. That’s why it works,” explained Licata, who found healing and release from her own trauma. She also spoke with many of the adult veterans completing the program. “That was the best experience for me. This is why I can advocate for this. I see the way people come in and the way they leave.
Licata feels many mental health issues begin during childhood and escalate into adulthood. She feels more can be done to combat this at an early age. Among the programs the foundation will support with proceeds from this year’s race will be the Hooves Patriot Project, which uses equine-assisted healing techniques with children ages 7-19 in three-day workshops to help children improve emotional and mental well-being, discover personal growth and resilience, improve communication and social skills, experience self-discovery and empowerment, and connect with themselves and peers through nature.
Held noted that social media has a huge influence on teens’ perceptions of themselves. So much of the perfection shown in social media feeds is unattainable, she said, and teens try to live their lives with unrealistic expectations.
“The kids work with the horses to learn how to manage perceptions and discover who they are,” she said. “We tell them, ‘If you don’t know who you are, you’re going to be everyone else.’”
Watching the transformation of children and adults completing the program brings joy to Held, especially knowing how one individual’s transformation can affect many others.
“We’re not just helping the people who come here. We’re having a ripple effect. When someone comes through here, they go home and share it with family and friends, and it improves their relationships,” she said.
To sign up for the Christian’s Annual Run for Life 5K Run/Walk, go to https://runsignup.com/race/oh/maumee/christiansannualrunforlife5k. The registration is $30.00 for adults and $20.00 for children.
For details on Christian’s Corner, visit Facebook.