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Jesse Klump Memorial Scholarship Fund: Travesty Turned Constructive

If you are in Ocean City this week, you may notice a couple of changes as you drive down Coastal Highway. The speed limit, normally 40 mph through North Ocean City, has been reduced to 30 mph, and Downtown, the speed limit has also been reduced. This is due to the expected, unauthorized H2Oi Pop-Up Rally.  It is reasonable to expect heavier than usual traffic, noise and strict enforcement of vehicle laws during the week and weekend.

Jesse's Paddle-A-ThonNot too long ago, in a quaint town not that far from Ocean City, MD, something awful and destructive occurred. Not only did it affect one family, it affected the entire town of Snow Hill. If you have been around the area for a while or watch the news, you may have seen coverage of this event. If you haven’t, you’ll see below how much this preventable event changed lives. I’m talking about the suicide of Jesse Klump (in middle), of course.

As a musician, athlete, president of the National Honor Society, and top of his class, Jesse’s death at 17 certainly came as a surprise. “He was a leader in so many ways,” Leah Klump (bottom left), Jesse’s sister and vice president of Jesse Klump Memorial Scholarship Fund, says. Jesse also worked at the Pocomoke River Canoe Company in his freshman year at Snow Hill High. Jesse made time for the community too. Ron Pilling, who worked with Jesse at the canoe company and now acts as the treasurer for Jesse’s foundation, says Jesse’s family discovered many of Jesse’s good deeds posthumously. “People would tell us about nice things Jesse did and we never knew,” Pilling remarks. These good deeds included anything from visiting sick friends, saying a kind word, and encouraging others.

As unfortunate as Jesse’s decision was, the decision of his mother, Kim, and sister to turn travesty into something productive and good was celebrated. “We wanted to do something to reward students like Jesse,” Leah says. With Jesse’s volunteer-oriented ways in mind, the board of directors for Jesse’s scholarship fund choose a student at Snow Hill High who demonstrates a willingness to help the community and maintains good grades. This year, the scholarship amount is $12,000.

How does this scholarship work, you may ask? Ron, Leah, Kim, and a few others work hard to organize the scholarship fund, which primarily stems from Jesse’s Paddle-A-Thon. “Jesse worked with the Pocomoke River Canoe Company and enjoyed canoeing in the Pocomoke,” Pilling says. “That’s how the idea of the paddle came up.” Leah adds, “We wanted to do something for all ages.” The fundraiser began in August of 2009, and last year, about 200 people showed up for the fun and raised $10-15,000. “It’s a casual scavenger hunt,” Pilling says, “People look for things along the Pocomoke.” Participants raise money much like in a traditional walk-a-thon, where attendees solicit pledges from friends and family. Essentially, you exercise and promote something great simultaneously–rewarding for mind and body.

Jesse's Paddle-A-ThonDespite their great success with the first paddle, Pilling and his partners knew paddling in Jesse’s memory would not bring money in years to come. “We needed to change the focus,” Pilling says, “We moved to focus on prevention programs.” The team now centers their attention to working with Worcester County Youth Suicide Awareness and Prevention (WCYSAP).

With WCYSAP, Jesse’s Paddle will put on a suicide comedy tour on April 19. “There’s no suicide comedy,” Pilling laughs. Taking a subject as precarious as suicide and turning it into something interesting instills hope in Pilling and those at Jesse’s Paddle. “We want to continue to get the message out there for awareness and first aid,” Pilling says. “We are speaking out.”

The tour will feature three seasoned comics. Robert Kelly, a comedian who has been on “Comedy Cellar” and “Last Call with Carson Daly,” will bring the laughs first. Next, Nikki Glaser, runner-up on “Last Comic Standing,” joins fellow comic and Comedy Central veteran, Ryan Hamilton, on the stage. If this funny list isn’t enough for you, Galaxy Collective and Rick Kennedy will provide music. Funny man, Dave the Fruit Guy, will emcee the event. The tour will explain how to spot suicidal behavior, but will still be wrapped up in fun and laughs. Interested? Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Oh, and here’s reinforcement that the event will be entertaining: the comedy tour takes place at Seacrets in Ocean City, MD. There’s also a silent auction, raffle, and food. Call 443-982-2716 or visit www.jessespaddle.org to make a donation or to procure tickets. Last year, there were about 300 people in attendance–300 people who wanted to advocate for the prevention of suicide. Come laugh, drink, and invest in the future of adolescents in your area.

Jesse's Paddle-A-ThonThe next Jesse’s Paddle-A-Thon is scheduled for July 21 on the Pocomoke River. Pledge forms are available online, and paddlers can register on the website. Like the comedy tour, there will be food, music, and beverages provided. Kayaks and canoes are also provided, and at no cost!

After the paddle event, Jesse’s Fund sponsors “Walk out of Darkness,” where participants will walk on the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD, to increase awareness about the risk and preven
tion of suicide. Those who attend can anticipate walking for about two hours (10 a.m. to noon). There will be other suicide prevention groups at the boardwalk too. Come out and walk and talk this September 29th.

These above events show off the goals of Jesse’s Fund’s members. Most notably, they seek to make others aware of the risk of suicide. Fundraisers coupled with the advocacy from Hope Hutira-Green, program manager for Worcester County Youth Suicide Awareness and Prevention Program, spread the news. “Hope goes to schools, chambers of commerce, and just about anywhere with information,” Pilling says. Hutira-Green brings questions, statistics, warning signs, and steps to deal with someone exemplifying warning signs to her speeches. “Suicide is the number one death for LGBT kids,” Pilling remarks, “But every victim displays warning signs.” It’s not just lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teens that suicide affects; Delaware saw four suicides since the beginning of 2012. Some who are at risk for harming themselves are at our front doorstep. Seasonal workers in Ocean City who are away from home and more often than not, struggle with the language barrier, are at risk. “Suicide can happen to anyone,” Leah says, “It’s not always from people you would expect.”

Aside from raising awareness, the Klumps and Pilling hope for the establishment of mental health centers for adolescents on the lower shore. As it stands now, there are no mental health centers for young people. Even still, Pilling is hopeful. “The community is behind us, and at such an unexpected extent so far,” Pilling says. Ultimately, those at Jesse’s fund want to raise awareness now in hopes to alter the future.

So, what are you supposed to do with all this information? For starters, listen to those around you. “You really have to be aware of the people around you and the people you care about,” Leah says. Sadly, it’s too late to change Jesse’s fate, but you can change the lives of others. “People often attribute ‘I could have killed myself’ as a teen thing, but it’s serious,” Leah comments. Far too often, technology and stress get in the way of quality time. Your attentiveness can make the difference between life and death for someone you love.

When you’ve got the listening piece down, participate in Jesse’s Paddle-A-Thon, go to the comedy tour, or raise awareness on your own. Joining the outdoorsy fun at Jesse’s Paddle will allow you connect with the community that supported the Klumps during and after Jesse’s death. If you’re more into comedy in the midst of an energetic crowd with a drink in hand, head to the comedy tour. Or, attend “Walk out of Darkness,” and socialize and raise awareness on the boardwalk in Ocean City. Whatever avenue you choose, keep promoting the health and safety of others in mind. It’s unfortunate that the Eastern Shore had to lose such a kind, outgoing, interesting person to remind us of reality. Now is the time to invest in a good cause. You never know who you may affect.

If you know someone who is suicidal, contact www.yspp.org for information on questions to ask, helpful tips, and more. Kim also runs a support group meeting in Berlin at the Health Department that’s free of charge. For information on the support group, call the Health Department at 410-629-0164.

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