“Admitting that you are lost is difficult because having no mental map, being no place, is like having no self: It’s impossible to conceive, because one of the main jobs of the organism is to adjust itself to place. Without a mental map, the organism can’t go about its business and rapidly deteriorates.”
– Gonzales, Laurence, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, New York NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 2004, p. 151
When beloved Pleasanton Realtor and community member Roy Dronkers took his own life Jan. 20, his brother Ron Dronkers immediately searched for meaning. Despite his own confusion, frustration and disbelief over the shocking news of his brother’s suicide, Ron Dronkers wanted to find a positive and public way to channel his grief.
In his sadness, Ron did not seek answers to “Why?” and “What if?” type questions; no one can blame themselves or expect to find logic after a suicide, he said in his Jan. 27 for Roy.
Instead, he and his wife Brenda sought understanding of how Roy’s suicide might become purposeful, might lead to a great community good. After all, during his lifetime, Roy was well known as an advocate of community fundraisers and non-profit groups.
“If we don’t turn this into an opportunity, then his whole 56 years of life were a waste,” said Ron.
Reading Laurence Gonzales’s Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, Ron formed the concept that he and Brenda could use their creativity and willpower to help connect “lost” people with vital resources.
Referring to the passage above, Ron said the new foundation’s name has a twofold meaning. On the one hand, everyone should always know that there is always someone “here” to help them.
“But ‘I Am Here’ also refers to the concept that a person is much more likely to survive when (they) accept where they are rather than fighting it,” he said, referring to Gonzales’s book.
“When they accept where they are, then things come into focus and they can think of ways to help themselves or get help,” he said, adding that to fight rather than accept realities may lead to tragic endings like Roy’s suicide.
Resounding Positive Reaction to Foundation Idea
In presenting the I Am Here foundation concept at two large business meetings less than two weeks after Roy’s death, Ron and Brenda found enormous support.
They also received one letter from a person already seeking services their new foundation hopes to provide.
“I need help,” said a simple, handwritten letter dropped in a box among dozens of business cards from people wanting to aid the Dronkers family in forming their new non-profit foundation. The letter included a name and a phone number.
The letter writer apparently had attended one of the meetings. The individual’s willingness to reach out signaled to Ron and Brenda that their foundation’s purpose is validated.
Initial goals for the I Am Here Foundation are to:
- increase awareness of the prevalence of depression and bipolar disorder
- remove stigmas surrounding the conditions
- help families understand the symptoms and warning signs that may indicate depression or signal the possibility of suicide.
- help connect people who are suffering with qualified medical and social resources
- apply for non-profit status and begin fundraising to support expenses such as printing costs or a higher-quality web site, which would serve as a forum.
“We won’t pretend that we personally can counsel people,” said Ron. “But we can say, ‘I Am Here to help you find the help you need,’” and put people in touch with professional help.
“We want to help lift someone up out of a cloud long enough to get them the help they need,” added Brenda.
The I Am Here foundation aims to give an opportunity to someone who thinks there’s no one out there to talk to. The foundation will use every means possible to connect with people, including every social media or in-person outlet they can leverage.
Before that happens, however, Brenda and Ron are both aware that people who are hurting need to feel as if it is acceptable to acknowledge that they have a problem and need help.
Education about depression and other major mental health and mood conditions will play a key role in the I Am Here Foundation.
“Roy truly was a light," said Brenda. "He was a healer and people were drawn to him.”
“The saddest thing is that people don’t realize how prominent depression is,” she said.
“There’s a stigma with depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and other mood disorders. They’ve always been seen as signs of weakness. And many men see it as a dent in their armor.”
For some men, she believes, the social stigma about depression devolves into an issue of what a man is “supposed to be.”
But nothing is further from the truth, she said.
Depression and other related mood disorders are serious medical conditions requiring immediate medical treatment from qualified professionals.
She also was clear to point out that neither she nor Ron are medical professionals, nor are they qualified to dispense advice.
Seeds of Their Dream: Ideas for the I Am Here Foundation’s Structure
The Dronkers’s dream for the I Am Here Foundation includes a core business from which all profits would fund the foundation.
A possible business model, said Ron, may include a wellness center, which would serve as a Yoga or Reiki studio, a coffee shop and lending library, and might even include office space where professionals affiliated with the foundation could conduct counseling sessions.
Brenda and Ron are no strangers to the art of building businesses. A longtime entrepreneur, among her many projects Brenda founded the first in Pleasanton; the company now has nearly 200 franchises. Between Brenda’s creativity and the couple’s relationship ability, they hope to make the I Am Here Foundation a reality.
With the scope of The I Am Here foundation, the couple first hopes to gather a community of professionals willing to offer guidance and expertise to the development process of the foundation and to people in need who contact the foundation for guidance.