Grief, healing and a vision fulfilled
The Bounds Johnson family is still healing, as are their many friends who, like them, were struck with grief following the loss of Parker Bounds Johnson three years ago to suicide.
"The effect is not just one person. It's hundreds. Hundreds of people are affected for life. Parents, siblings, friends," says Parker's father, Dan Johnson.
That impact, Johnson says, is why he, his wife Liz Bounds, their daughter Breanna and a supporting cast of friends and family are looking to prevent suicides, even if it's just with one at-risk youth at a time.
With that mission in mind, the Bounds Johnson family started the Parker Bounds Johnson Foundation/Wilderness4Life. Their goal is to provide financial assistance to help at-risk youth find wilderness therapy programs that fit their needs in order to prevent the loss of another young life.
Parker Bounds Johnson was a bright soul who struggled for many years with his depression. His parents speak of immeasurable kindness and warmth that would radiate from Parker everywhere he went.
"He was the type to give you the shirt off his back. I remember being in the car one day and him telling me to stop because there was this young kid having a panic attack on the side of the road. He hopped out of the car and sat down with the kid, gave him water and a snack and just stayed there until he calmed down. That's the type of person he was," Bounds recalls.
Despite that warmth and kindheartedness, Parker continued to grapple with depression and severe anxiety for several years until he took his life on Sept. 20, 2014 — just six days shy of his 24th birthday.
For more information on the Parker Bounds Johnson Foundation, visit wilderness4life.com or call Elizabeth Bounds at 503-810-9100. To donate, visit the website and click on the donation tab.
Parker was an athlete, an artist and a huge proponent of connecting with nature. Part of his battle with depression led him to attend a wilderness therapy program in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. He returned from that experience with a reinvigorated zest for life and would go on to claim that every person struggling with mental health should seek wilderness therapy, whether they were an at-risk youth or an adult battling depression.
Three years after Parker's death, the Bounds Johnson family is aiming to realize his vision.
On Oct. 7, the Parker Bounds Johnson Foundation/Wilderness4Life will hold a fundraising event appropriately dubbed "The Way to the Wilderness." Twenty percent of the funds raised will go directly to the Oregon chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), while the other 80 percent will go toward matching grants to help fund scholarships for at-risk youth who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford wilderness therapy.
On average, Bounds says, wilderness therapy costs anywhere from $400 to $800 a day, with a six-week program running a tab of nearly $35,000.
To help cover those costs, the foundation has created partnerships with other nonprofit organizations that help fund scholarships for wilderness therapy, such as Sky's the Limit Fund, a California-based nonprofit that connects wilderness therapy grants and resources to those who need it most. According to Johnson, funds raised by Wilderness4Life and matched by Sky's the Limit Fund will be earmarked specifically to help at-risk youth in Oregon and Washington.
For Bounds, partnerships with AFSP, Sky's the Limit Fund and the Outdoor Behavioral Health Council — the national accrediting association that promotes program standards, ethics and risk management — have been a huge boon to Wilderness4Life's mission.
"What we didn't know, and hesitated to do, is how to ask for help," Johnson says. "What we found is that people want to help and want you to ask. There are more people that want to help than you'd ever know."
One of the reasons the Bounds Johnson family so heavily believes in wilderness therapy is because of how it helped Parker and the way Parker's life changed after he graduated from his program. Bounds believes it added five extra years to Parker's life, five years — despite the struggles — that she cherishes wholeheartedly.
Other programs offered through Wilderness4Life include the foundation's peer-support program, called Wildhearts. Wildhearts is run by a close friend of Parker's, Conner Gilfillan, who takes groups of foundation members, friends and at-risk youth on trips into local wilderness areas. This past weekend, they completed a two-day backpacking trip on Mt. Hood near Cooper Spur.
The idea behind these trips is to combine high adventure and peer counseling to create a sense of camaraderie in a positive, sober atmosphere.
"We're all healing in some way. We're all healing from the loss of Parker. In our brokenness, we're showing up to help each other. Nobody is immune to having some painful issue to deal with," Bounds says.
Although the fundraising event on Oct. 7 is sold out, there are other ways that community members can get involved with Wilderness4Life. On the same day, the AFSP Oregon Chapter will host an "Out of the Darkness Walk" that starts at 10 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland. To register, go online to bit.ly/PBJF-Walk or call 503-951-3012.