Dealer Raises Awareness about Suicide, Mental Illness
“Steve was very candid: He had just learned that his son, Jason, who had struggled for years with mental illness, had committed suicide while he was attending Northwestern University, “ says Vicari. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was devastated. I didn’t know Jason. I barely knew Steve. But this could have been anyone’s kid. It could have been my son or daughter.”
In the months since, Vicari has been channeling that raw emotion—with the enthusiastic support of her brothers and dealership co-owners Gary and Scott—into the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). That includes a “Walk for Jason” held in September in both suburban Chicago and Kansas City that, collectively, drew more than 350 participants and raised $117,000.
Arlington Toyota also made a contribution to NAMI that was matched by the Toyota Dealer Matching Funds. And, Vicari made a personal contribution to NAMI. But her commitment to the cause goes well beyond money.
Vicari serves on the board of her local NAMI chapter to raise awareness in Jason’s honor. “The more I learn about the stigma of mental illness and how often it gets swept under the rug, the more compelled I am to do something about it,” she say. “I’m a really lucky person. I have a thriving business. My family is healthy and happy. I can’t just go through life collecting and not giving back. For some people, every day is a struggle.”
Vicari has opened up the dealership’s newly expanded 124,000-square-foot facility for the nonprofit’s Spring Gala fundraiser. And she supports a foundation established by the Arkin family that’s helping to underwrite presentations by Kevin Hines at area high schools. Hines is the author of Cracked, Not Broken, a book that tells of how Hines survived a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and his transformation since.
“They held an event at Jason’s high school,” says Vicari. “After the presentation, two kids approached Kevin and Steve and said they’d had suicidal thoughts and wanted to get help. The Arkins know they can’t bring Jason back. But they’re doing everything they can to save others. We’re right there with them.”
For more on the issue of mental illness, go to www.nami.org.