After Andy Lubbers died in September, his parents, President Emeritus Arend D. "Don" Lubbers and Nancy Lubbers, heard from many of his elementary and high school classmates, who are now scattered across the country.
Photo by Amanda Pitts
Don and Nancy Lubbers are pictured with Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan.
Andy was well-remembered as senior class president at East Grand Rapids High School. His friends expressed condolences and told the Lubberses how nice Andy was to them, especially when they felt insecure. Andy killed himself at age 43 after battling depression and mental illness for decades.
The Lubberses announced a fund in Andy's name that will promote a mental health, bully and suicide prevention program in Kent County K-12 schools. Don Lubbers said during a news conference February 21 that the "be nice." fund was a natural fit to honor Andy.
"Andy asked in a note to be remembered for his good qualities," Lubbers said. "Being nice was his hallmark. His mother and I want to remember that. Giving to the be nice. program in Kent County is our way of doing it."
The be nice. program is operated by the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan. It provides K-12 students, staff and parents with tools to recognize a mental illness and steps to take a proactive approach. Money donated to the Andy Lubbers Fund, through the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, will support the program in Kent County schools.
Christy Buck, executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, said the core tenets of the program's curriculum are Notice, Invite, Challenge, Empower.
"This is an opportunity to notice the changes in someone’s behavior, invite yourself to reach out, challenge them to get help, challenge the stigma, and empower them with your support," she said.
The program is in nearly 100 schools in West Michigan and Ron Caniff, superintendent of the Kent County Intermediate School District, said the Andy Lubbers fund will enable even more schools to participate.
"I've seen firsthand numerous students who struggle with mental health issues, and there are so many more we don't know about," Caniff said. "This is very, very real, adolescent depression and much more work is needed to address mental health and bullying issues."
Lubbers said he and Nancy were introduced to the program by Jeff Elhart, a Holland businessman who started a similar fund after his brother, Wayne, killed himself in 2015. Elhart and other people with similar stories set up "be nice." funds through community foundations in Oceana, Ottawa and Muskegon counties.
"What parent, grandparent and interested friends of the schools can resist a plan to make the school environment more friendly, and just maybe save some lives of imperiled children or youth who need help at a crucial time in their young lives?" Lubbers said.
Donations to the Andy Lubbers fund can be made online at www.givegr.org/benice; checks can be made payable to the Grand Rapids Community Foundation c/o the "Andy Lubbers be nice. Memorial Fund."
Grand Valley students have started a be nice. chapter on campus. Learn more about be nice. at www.beniceonline.org.