Out of father's grief, suicide-prevention group meets growing need, earns pledge from Delores and Wayne Weaver
After his son took his life in 2019, Joe Kenney pledged at his funeral that he would do whatever he could to prevent others from taking that same fateful step.
He has done that.
“We’ve gotten so many testimonies from people who say the only reason I’m alive is because of Here Tomorrow. When you hear that, it tears you up,” he said.
Here Tomorrow, based in Neptune Beach, is a nonprofit he helped found in January 2021. Its goal is to give quick — and easy —access to conversations about mental health, including suicide, to those who need it, and then helping guide them to longer-term support.
Its services are free.
In a Times-Union story a year ago, Kenney, an entrepreneur, said he had vowed to spend his retirement and his own money to help others after Gary’s death.
“I wasn’t there to save his life. My goal now is to save somebody else’s life,” he said in that article.
A little more than a year later, Here Tomorrow is thriving, receiving philanthropic grants, helping hundreds and hiring more counselors to work with those who reach out. It’s getting inquiries about starting similar operations across Florida and far out of state.
“It’s overwhelmingly exciting and shocking at the same time,” Kenney said. “We’re working with like 550 friends now, in a year; we call our customers, our clients, our friends. I thought if we got to 30, I’d be happy.”
Here Tomorrow now has 155 people in therapy at no charge to them. It also conducts twice-a-week group sessions for 15 people or more, which will soon expand to three times a week.
“I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Kenney said. “I really believe once the word keeps getting out, those numbers are going to quadruple.”
Both the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund and the J. Wayne Weaver Fund recently pledged to match contributions up to $500,000 for a total of $1 million through the end of 2024. And Kenney said he will also match donations up to $1 million.
“Wayne and I are proud to support this new, grassroots effort …,” Delores Barr Weaver said. “Clearly, the community need is great, and we hope many people will join in to make the campaign a success.”
Numerous other groups and foundations have pledged support too — totaling about $2 million in commitments in the past year.
“My knees hurt from dropping to my knees begging,” Kenney joked.
Kenney has also been to Tallahassee to talk to the state Legislature, which he says has committed $500,000 to the group, contingent on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.
Kenney said his goal from the start was to expand Here Tomorrow throughout Florida. It could be bigger than that though.
“I think it’ll go nationwide. I really do,” he said. “I’ve been asked to be in Chicago and New York and Los Angeles. The more we do it the more we realize there isn’t anything else like it.”
He gives credit to Hannah Hackworth, Here Tomorrow’s executive director, her staff and the group’s growing number of what’s called recovery peer specialists. Certified by the state, the specialists have had their own experience with suicidal thoughts.
Their goal is to talk to those in need and make sure they quickly see a therapist, either virtually or in person.
Kenney calls it “the power of the peers.” There are now eight in the group, with plans to expand to 15 by September.
“They’ve been there and they want to give back,” he said.
Kenney was in the fire-safety business with major corporate clients across North America until he sold his company. He said his money and connections meant little, though, as he tried to get his son help, not sure where to turn or what to do.
“If this [Here Tomorrow] had been here, my son would still be here, I really believe. He would be one of our peers,” he said.
April is a hard month for him. It’s the month Gary took his life, and it’s the month of his birthday. He would be 33 now.
“It’s hard for me to want to admit to finding meaning for my son’s dying,” Kenney said. “Then I’m OKing it, and I don’t know that I want to do that.”
But it’s clear to him that Here Tomorrow has made a difference, and for that he’s grateful.
“I feel at least together that he and I have helped a lot of people,” Kenney said. “He would have liked that.”
Here Tomorrow: Mental Health in Jacksonville
For more information visit heretomorrow.org. If you or someone you know is experiencing depression and is seeking help, contact Here Tomorrow at (904) 372-9087 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24 hours a day at (800) 273-8255.