Honoring a Life by Saving Others: Drew North Foundation Formed After Chehalis Teen’s Death by Suicide

5K Run to Raise Money for Mental Health/Suicide Awareness


Steve and Jennie Douglass of Chehalis know one thing for certain.

Drew would have loved this.

That’s a guiding light for these parents, whose teenage son, Drew Douglass, died by suicide in September 2021. They started the nonprofit Drew North Foundation to make a meaningful difference in how mental health and suicide are addressed with young people and endeavor always for their work to honor Drew.

“He would be all over this if he was alive,” Jennie Douglass said of the work of the Drew North Foundation. “He would want to be part of it … I think if something like this was in place, he would still be here.”

An upcoming 5K run/walk sponsored by Chehalis Thorbeckes will be the Drew North Foundation’s first official public fundraising effort. The timing of the event will come just after the July 16 implementation of a statewide crisis and suicide prevention line that can be accessed by dialing 988.

The Douglasses and their close family friends started talking about starting a nonprofit just a month after losing Drew. They formed a board in November 2021 and were approved as a nonprofit just after the beginning of 2022.

Jennie Douglass said the urgency in their minds was because they had watched their usually happy and well-adjusted son struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic and found out after his death that mental health struggles and suicides have been on the rise. The Douglasses are a very close-knit family with a large, supportive group of friends. They had open conversations with their children about mental health and supported Drew when he sought help for his struggles. 

“The fact that it could happen to my family made me think of the kids who didn’t have that,” Jennie Douglass said.

Drew Douglass was almost exactly 14 and a half when he took his life. He was a kid who worked hard, smiled often and made friends wherever he went. He was active in sports and had a large and varied group of friends at school. He was deeply interested in church and his parents found multiple highlighted sections in his Bible after his death. He loved country music and his dad treasures the playlist of about 350 songs he left behind. He wanted to become a lineman like so many men in his family and loved using heavy equipment to make a variety of features on their property.

He was also a homebody, who talked about someday marrying and having a family. His parents keep his cellphone charged and turned on and often marvel at the photos he took, especially of sunsets and the moon. They are also touched at the friends who continue to send him Snapchats and messages on his phone, even knowing he is gone.

“I don’t want his name ever forgotten. He meant that much to so many people,” said family friend and Drew North board member Stephanie VonMoos. “The kid was remarkable for as young as he was. He had a lot of impact on a lot of people.”

The broad goal of the Drew North Foundation is to spark more conversations about mental health issues among young people and to help those who are hurting to get the help they need. One way the foundation hopes to help is by providing a program that can be implemented in local schools. The Douglasses both recalled a program from their high school days called Natural Helpers, which equipped young people to be the bridge between peers who might be struggling and the adults who can help them. They said they have been looking into peer-to-peer mentoring style programs including Natural Helpers and Only 7 Seconds as well as some regional programs offered in other states.

“We’re still trying to find the right avenue or curriculum the schools will help us put in,” Jennie Douglass said.

One of the goals of Drew North is for whatever model they come up with to be adopted everywhere and they have already heard interest from educators in surrounding school districts. Steve Douglass said one of the things he likes about programs like Natural Helpers is they not only have the potential to help kids who are struggling, but also to create more avenues for students to be leaders.

“And it was also very inclusive. It didn’t have boundaries or barriers and that is important,” added family friend and Drew North Foundation board member Angie Bennett.

Another effort of Drew North will be helping adults who have contact with youth such as teachers, administrators and even coaches to feel better equipped to help with mental health struggles. Bennett is a certified instructor in mental health first aid, a sort of “CPR for mental health.”

Bennett said the Drew North Foundation would like to help adults better understand the warning signs, as well as how to start a conversation that makes the person who is struggling feel seen and supported.

“It teaches people who aren’t comfortable with mental health to talk about it,” Bennett explained.

All proceeds from the July 23 5K will benefit the Drew North Foundation and the event will also be a chance for the nonprofit to start publicly spreading the word about mental health conversations that need to be happening. There will be sponsored signs along the 5K route with encouraging messages. As to messages they, personally would say to young people:

“The thing that keeps coming back to me is the bad days don’t last forever,” VonMoos said.

“It’s OK to talk to people. It’s OK to feel how they feel,” Jennie Douglass said. “Kids you don’t think would struggle, struggle. It can be anybody and everybody.”

In addition to the 5K, the Drew North Foundation raises money at their website, where people can both donate or purchase clothing with Drew North designs created by VonMoos’ company, Tipsy Cowgirl. In addition to paying for curriculum and education, money raised by the Drew North Foundation also funded three student scholarships this year, which they hope to continue. In the future, board members would like to have a golf tournament because the entire family is into golf and Drew played for the W.F. West High School golf team. No matter the event, they want any fundraising events to be family friendly not only to encourage families to be involved in talking about mental health but to honor the young man who would have loved to be there.

“Drew had a very adventurous spirit and loved everybody,” Bennett said. “This is a way for us, collectively, we all considered Drew family, to keep him in our lives.”

“He made a lasting impact in his 14 years and I think he will continue to do so,” added VonMoos.