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You Are Not Alone: Couple creating 'safe places' in memory of son to help students find comfort at Northeast Ohio schools

The spaces are dedicated to John Haney, who took his own life in 2017.

NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio — "He was my pride and joy to be honest with you." 

No one saw it coming.

John Haney was a happy kid with a smile for miles. Loved by many, he was a leader on the high school and college football team, but fighting an inner battle alone.

"The thing I want you to know about john is he was kind and compassionate. Never knew a stranger," says John's mom, Beth Haney.

In 2017, after graduating college and living in Columbus, John took his own life. And with it, he took a part of his parents' hearts. His father, Rick, remembers one specific conversation he had with his son months before.

"He says, 'Dad, I want you to know that you brought me up right, and anything that happens to me is on me.' I think he was trying to protect me from something that he was fighting."

That conversation is something his dad now sees as a warning sign of that secret battle John was fighting. Rick says his son would often say he had things handled, and John now fears his son was carrying too much.

But the Haneys are working on a mission to help bring light to those dark secrets.

"When he was born, we gave him over to the Lord and asked him to use him, and he's using him right now," Beth says.

The Haneys have created John's Safe Place, rooms at local schools where students can be open, decompress and find comfort. They were created after Beth took a class on mental health. The couple consulted a Cleveland Clinic psychologist to tailor them just right.

The first room was installed at Fairview Park High School, John's high school alma mater. The latest one, just finished this week at North Olmsted High School, adjacent to a recently completed room at the middle school.

"If you walked into that room right now you would absolutely love it," sasys North Olmsted High School counselor Tricia Calloway. "Mr. Haney's right. Cushiony couches, fish tanks, the lighting is low."

She says the rooms provide space when students come to her office in distress, where they'd otherwise sit out in the hall or office trying to calm down. The district is seeing more kids feeling that way.

"Whether it's reports from parents reaching out for help or those student not connecting when we were virtual, we have seen an increase," says North Olmsted Principal Jack Weagley.

As students fill the halls of schools again, the Haneys hope their tragedy becomes a legacy of hope.

"We wear on our back that John's fight isn't over because it isn't," Beth says. "And we will go on, fight this stigma on mental illness and these kids and tell them it's OK, that there is hope."

The Haneys credit their faith for starting the rooms and getting them through hard days. Each room costs between $2,000 to $3,000 to create, and they use donations from The John C. Haney Foundation for that. They hope to create more rooms in coming weeks.

Resources:

For those feeling especially lost and contemplating suicide, please know there is help. The National Suicide Hotline is 800-273-8255. More resources from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline are here

The Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County also has a 24-hour addiction crisis hotline at 216-623-6888.

RELATED: You are not alone: Finding mental health support in the Black community throughout Northeast Ohio

RELATED: You are not alone: Mental health and the Black community in Northeast Ohio

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