Erika’s Lighthouse: A Shining Light For Childhood-Teen Depression

Kiwanis International, Local Nonprofit Establish Partnership

Kiwanis International recently announced a new partnership with Erika’s Lighthouse that will empower students participating in Kiwanis youth programs by providing them with the tools they need to deal with mental health and depression. Kiwanis International contacted Erika’s Lighthouse, knowing it could be a strong partner to help young people in need.

Tom and Ginny Neuckranz founded Erika’s Lighthouse in Winnetka in 2004 after their 14-year-old daughter died from depression. The nonprofit organization’s mission creates lasting cultural changes surrounding mental health in schools. This is achieved through classroom programs in grades 4-12, membership in clubs and activities at school, as well as family education. Erika’s Lighthouse supports additional resources, and provides sample policies and handouts for teens and their parents.

“Kiwanis Builders and Key clubs are respected leaders in their school communities,” said Brandon Combs, executive director of Erika’s Lighthouse. “By being a leading voice around mental health, they have the power to reduce stigma, raise awareness and promote help-seeking for struggling students.”

Middle and high school students benefit as teen voices help normalize discussions about mental health by creating a common vocabulary to a topic that wasn’t discussed by previous generations. Students learn the signs and symptoms of depression and how they can seek help.

Erika’s Lighthouse helps students and advisors identify concerns so students get the help they need.

“At the core of all our programs is an 18-minute video featuring seven young people sharing their diverse stories and experiences,” said Combs. “It is important that students have the opportunity to hear about depression directly from young people of a similar age and to hear from students from a variety of backgrounds.

“After watching the video in full during lesson one, or in portions throughout lessons one, two, and three in the ‘Health Standards’ version of our programs, students are provided with opportunities to discuss and think critically about the information and perspectives shared in the video. The instructor is also asked to educate students about school and community resources should they need to get help for themselves or help for a friend. There are also self-referral cards.”

A parent handbook details signs and symptoms so parents can be more aware of signs of depression. This includes withdrawal from activities, the desire to sleep more, change in appetite and mood swings.

“We are focusing on promoting inclusive school cultures through mental health education,” said Combs. “We also welcome volunteers to join us in our goal to ‘Get Depression Out of the Dark’.”

At noon Wednesday Sept. 1, educators and teens are invited to attend a virtual meeting on Teen Empowerment Clubs. Register on Erika’s Lighthouse website: