Welcome to Chicago North Shore Moms Local Nonprofit Spotlight, where we highlight and introduce a local nonprofit’s inception and mission.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and thus, CNSMoms is kicking off this special month a few days early to help spread awareness about a beacon of hope for adolescent depression. Erika’s Lighthouse is a national nonprofit founded in Winnetka whose mission is that of providing education and awareness about adolescent depression, encouraging good mental health and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

We had the honor of hearing from Erika’s Lighthouse founder Ginny Neuckranz about the tragedy that led to the fruition of Erika’s Lighthouse. She explains that at its core, the nonprofit strives to #breakthestigma and #getdepressionoutofthedark through outreach such as classroom education, teen empowerment clubs, tools for parents, teens and educators and family engagement. If you’re a parent, you’ll want to learn more about Erika’s Lighthouse and then consider joining them in May by taking the Positivity Pledge and help bring more light into our local communities. Welcome, Ginny and Erika’s Lighthouse!

Hi Ginny. Please introduce yourself.

My name is Ginny Neuckranz. I grew up in Wilmette, raised my children in Winnetka, and now live in Glenview. Yes, I have spent most of my life in the north suburbs, but I do like to travel! In 2004 I founded Erika’s Lighthouse: A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression. I currently serve on the Board of Directors.

What is the mission of Erika’s Lighthouse: A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression?

Erika’s Lighthouse: A Beacon of Hope for Adolescent Depression is a not-for-profit dedicated to educating and raising awareness about adolescent depression, encouraging good mental health and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

As a mom, mental health is something I’m constantly clued into with my children. How does Erika’s Lighthouse work to help adolescent individuals and groups?

We create and support a depression awareness curriculum for classrooms for middle schools and high schools. Our most recent project is curricula for online students to be used during the pandemic. Erika’s Lighthouse is based out of Winnetka, however, we have a national presence, and are in 39 states and 3 countries. There are many schools using our programs in the Chicagoland area, as well. Any school can use our materials for free and the program is video-based, interviewing real teens talking about depression, and how to seek help. 

What was the inspiration behind the forming Erika’s Lighthouse?

My husband Tom and I, along with some very clever friends, founded Erika’s Lighthouse at our dining room table 17 years ago . We wanted to give kids a basic understanding of depression which at the time was pretty much taboo to talk about, and still is in many communities. We wanted to give them the vocabulary to talk about it, as well as to know what to do if they or a friend confided in them that they were feeling bad.

  • We promote help seeking.
  • We promote stigma busting.
  • We promote good mental health habits for all students.
Ginny, the reason you became involved in this mission is so very personal. Can you please tell us more about that?

Tom and I have been involved since its inception. This nonprofit was started out of tragedy. We lost our daughter, Erika, to suicide at 14 years old. But it was actually depression that killed her. Tom and I did not want other families to have this happen to them. We did not want others to suffer silently. We saw a big void and taboo surrounding mental health issues. We do not want to lose anyone in our community, or anywhere, for that matter, because they felt they couldn’t tell someone about how bad they were feeling.

Thank you for sharing that with us and for being that beacon of light and hope for the young in our communities.

How has Erika’s Lighthouse changed over the last 10 years in terms of outreach, programming, etc.

Erika’s Lighthouse has grown from a local organization reaching Northshore schools to a nationwide organization reaching students across the country as well as in other countries.

We are shifting our programming to be more aligned, more integrated, and more comprehensive. We are doing this because we realize there is a very serious need. The pandemic has certainly enhanced the need to address mental health in the school system. We want to empower educators and teens. We want to be the school system’s partner as a Champion for Change!

What’s next for Erika’s Lighthouse?

Erika’s Lighthouse was founded on changing cultures. We are moving forward with more district-level programs so that we can offer schools full solutions for Elementary through High School. We are continuing to enhance our programs to allow educators more flexibility about how, where and who receives appropriate programming based on the needs of each school.

Our vision is to offer comprehensive interconnected and aligned programming that engages educators, students, families and the whole school community towards being more inclusive towards mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Erika’s Lighthouse actively calling on everyone to take Positivity Pledge. Is this the first year for this initiative?

This May will be our second time doing the Positivity Pledge. This year the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, which serves girls ages 5 – 18 in northern Illinois and is part of a national sisterhood of more than 1.7 million girls and 750,000 adults, is bringing the Positivity Pledge to all of its members. The organization is encouraging girls, volunteers, families, and communities to take the Positivity Pledge every day. Girl Scouts will also earn a special patch for doing activities throughout the month.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for the strength of Erika’s Lighthouse?

Our friends and family- A small group of people can do a lot in this world with hard work, tenacity, and hope. This story is really the story of dedicated people who remind me of the story of the Little Engine that thought it could. We held ourselves to high standards, and came up with a quality product.

We now have a “rock star “ professional staff that keep augmenting, improving and growing our programs. It is still the Little Engine story, though. They are a small but mightily productive group!

And of course, all of our amazing supporters and educators who believe in us and share our program.

Tell us how we can help!

Donations enable us to continue educating teens and changing school cultures to be more inclusive, empathetic and knowledgeable about depression and mental health. When making a gift online, you can choose to make a one-time payment or enroll in our monthly giving program.

We’re always looking for people (teens and up) to help spread our message of hope and raise awareness about adolescent depression. Together, we can Get Depression Out of the Dark.

We are always busy building a community and planning our next opportunity to reach more people and promote good mental health. Be a part of the movement and join us in raising funds so no young person will feel alone in their depression.

How can we keep in touch with Erika’s Lighthouse?

We’d love for you to follow Erika’s Lighthouse on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Originally featured in Chicago North Shore Moms