The mother of a Woodgrove High School student who took his life in 2014 is continuing to provide a lifeline for other young people.
Suzie Bartel, who launched the nonprofit the Ryan Bartel Foundation, is launching a community space called THE FORT. It could be described as a pop-up teen center that invites young people to take part in a variety of workshops, from art and music therapy, to meditation and yoga, and an activity with therapy dogs.
The first of the monthly programs will run 2-5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, at Fusion Academy, 19300 Promenade Drive, Suite 200, in Lansdowne. It is open to 13- to 21-year-olds. THE FORT is free, but interested attendees are asked to select their preferred workshops and register at ryanbartelfoundation.org/the-fort.
After her son Ryan lost his life to suicide at 17 years old, Bartel partnered with Woodgrove High School to launch a club called We’re All Human. She’s now helped high schools throughout the county launch similar clubs. But Bartel said she wanted to take that similar concept outside the walls of the school.
“Ever since we lost Ryan, we’ve repeatedly heard teens say we need a safe place to go outside of school where we can connect with one another and just be ourselves,” Bartel said.
Loudoun has seen a rise in teen suicides in recent years, and Bartel thinks people are taking their own lives at a younger age. She knows of kids in Loudoun as young as 13 years old who have lost their lives to suicide.
“Teens face constant stress from school, pressures to do well in grades, college applications—it’s an overwhelming part of life,” she said.
Bartel has gathered a team of volunteers, including therapists, professional counselors, yoga instructors, artists, and educators to help at THE FORT. They will help young people identify their strengths and how to build on those strengths to help them during their most difficult moments. They will also introduce them to new ways of expressing themselves through practices such as art, writing, music, and meditation. Future workshops will also equip young people with skills such as interviewing techniques.
“All of these are designed to boost their confidence, build resiliency and give them this sense of, hey, I can deal with life when it gets difficult,” Bartel said.
For now, THE FORT is free and made possible through an army of volunteers, but Bartel said she’s hoping to find sponsors who can help cover costs and eventually create a weekly program.
This Sunday’s workshops will be led by artist Jill Perla, animal assisted interventionist Elaine Johnson, licensed professional counselor Suzanne Nixon, yoga therapist Melissa Beaver, and therapists from arts and music therapy center A Place to Be. Learn more at ryanbartelfoundation.org/the-fort.