Molly McAuliffe works to tear down the stigma around mental illness and honor her late father’s legacy along the way.
Her dad, Paul “Stump” McAuliffe, was a big Penn State fan and a proud resident of West Scranton. He was a devoted husband of 44 years as well as a caring dad and a loving grandfather of five. He enjoyed cooking and golfing, and he would do anything for anybody, McAuliffe said.
Her father also struggled with his mental health and died by suicide this past June.
He was not alone, McAuliffe said. Millions of people throughout the world fight the invisible internal battles the same way he did, many of them doing so in silence. She hopes to carry on her father’s legacy through the Choose to Keep Going Paul “Stump” McAuliffe Memorial Foundation. Now in its earliest stage, the foundation aims to provide help for others struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and more mental health concerns.
“It doesn’t discriminate,” said McAuliffe, who lives in Scranton with her daughter, Kennedy Popish, 6. “It can affect you regardless of your age, gender or whatever. Those who are struggling with this shouldn’t feel ashamed to speak up or to get the help they need. I want to do whatever we can to make sure that if someone is having suicidal thoughts, they know they can reach out for help.”
Its first initiative, a T-shirt fundraiser, will benefit regional suicide prevention outreach groups in her dad’s memory, including Northeast Suicide Prevention Initiative and NAMI Scranton and Northeast Region, as well as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The idea for the shirts came to McAuliffe on a whim. She was close to her father and thinks about him a lot. One night, she began to think of ways to honor him and maybe help others in the process.
“I felt like maybe the best way to carry on his legacy is by shedding light on this topic,” she said.
She wanted to do something for World Suicide Prevention Day (held each Sept. 10) and make a T-shirt featuring mental health awareness symbols. Through her research, she learned the sunflower is considered a symbol of hope since they grow toward the light.
“Anyone who struggles with depression or suicidal thoughts should seek light instead of hiding in darkness,” McAuliffe said. “(The) semicolon represents when someone could have chosen to end their story but kept going instead. … All of these ideas started coming to me of all the things I wanted to do.”
McAuliffe ran the idea of the T-shirt fundraiser by her mom, Ann Marie (aka Priscilla), and her siblings, Shannon and Josh, who all were supportive. McAuliffe then reached out to Nunzi’s Advertising to design the shirts and took to social media to spread the word. She shared a post of herself wearing the shirt, explaining the symbols and urging those struggling to keep going. The post gained traction with hundreds of shares, likes, words of encouragement and others sharing their own views on mental health.
The T-shirts — on sale at shop.shopnunzis.com/keep going/shop/home through Wednesday, Oct. 14, at 8:30 a.m. — already have 200 preorders, McAuliffe said.
“I think so many people related to it because we all know someone who is struggling,” she said. “Even if they’re not being open about it, we all have someone in our lives who needs help with their mental health. That’s why it’s so important to get the word out about this and normalize talking about our mental health.”
McAuliffe’s message resonated with many people, including one of her best friends, Crystal DeAntona, for a multitude of reasons. DeAntona not only is close to McAuliffe and her family but also lost her mother to suicide years ago. Just as they were there for her and her family, DeAntona was there for the McAuliffes as they grieved and offered guidance on regional groups that had helped DeAntona’s family. An advocate for mental health and suicide prevention awareness, DeAntona supported McAuliffe, using her voice to further tear down stigmas.
“I can’t think of a better person to spread the word about this message,” DeAntona said. “Molly is such an amazing person, and everyone who knows loves her. … She can use her important voice to bring light to an issue like this, and that’s what we need. I’m so proud of her for doing this.”
The memorial foundation is in the process of filing its nonprofit paperwork with the state, McAuliffe said, and family and friends have supported it each step of the way. McAuliffe’s friend Laura Sosik, who sells handmade ornaments, also will create ones with sunflowers on them, with a portion of the proceeds from the sales benefitting the foundation.
Next, McAuliffe wants to create a Facebook page to promote awareness and education on suicide prevention and mental health, and she hopes to hold a fundraiser on the anniversary of her father’s death. She also expects the foundation to serve as an avenue for people to get help and connect struggling people with resources and professional guidance.
In her day-to-day, McAuliffe continues to advocate. A health and physical education teacher at Mid Valley Secondary Center, McAuliffe shared her story with her classes, reminding them it’s OK not to be OK and urging them to seek help if they grapple with negative thoughts and feelings. This has been a difficult year for everyone, especially those who struggle with their mental health, McAuliffe said, and she hopes her father’s memory can provide a light in the darkness for someone else.
“This hits home for us,” she said. “We want to help people who are struggling with mental illness and steer them in the right direction to help them get the help they need. We want to normalize (the conversation around) mental health. We want them to know it’s OK to speak up instead of keeping it to themselves.”
The Choose to Keep Going Paul “Stump” McAuliffe Memorial Foundation T-shirts remain on sale at shop.shopnunzis.com/keepgoing/shop/home through Thursday, Oct. 15, at 8:30 a.m.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT