After singer and motivational speaker Billy Ballenger spoke at a school in Tennessee recently, a girl with a secret approached him. Her former boyfriend was threatening suicide because she broke up with him.
Ballenger, 49, did not worry about triggering an adverse reaction in the girl who spoke to him.
"I'm thinking, 'Save life now,'" he told Sunday's audience at the Walk Into the Light suicide awareness and prevention event at Lee Stadium in Newcomerstown. "You've got to tell somebody."
But she wasn't having it. She backed away from him.
"I can't do that," she said. "If I tell somebody, he will hate me."
Ballenger wasn't having any of that.
"I said, 'He can't hate you if he's dead,'" said Ballenger.
Ballenger, of Fort Wayne, Ind., travels the country with his group of college-age interns Break the Grey. Together, they bring a multi-media presentation, of music, skits, dance and motivational speaking to inspire audiences to reach their greatest potential.
They also report any suicide threats to officials at schools they visit, Ballenger said.
The presentation included a skit, "Beautiful," in two which girls suffer emotional harm after being ostracized by three others who admire their own physical beauty in a mirror.
"The pressure's on to be perfect, to have it all together, and to be what society says is beautiful," Break the Grey team member Audra Graber said at the end of the action. "What is beauty? True beauty is when you can get up and look at that person in the mirror and say, 'You are beautiful.'
"And if anyone ever tries to contradict what you know in your heart, you hold your head up high, you smile at them and walk away. Walk away from the negativity. Walk away from the people who want to drag you down into a pit of insecurity because they don't see themselves as clearly as you might think.
"All they see is that mirror right there. And I get it. It's hard to see the true beauty inside of yourself when in seems like we live in a world full of mirrors, making it easy to tear yourself down and idolize society's next top model."
Ballenger encouraged those in attendance to avoid dwelling on their negative traits.
"When you continue to look at the flaws, it just continues to get darker and darker and darker and darker," he said.
He urged the audience of more than 200 people not to ignore those who might be stuck in a "box" of suffering, but to reach for them and offer hope. He said his hope comes from Jesus Christ.
Ballenger's own low point came after a 1988 SWAT team raid at the home he shared with wife Jodie. Their 9-month-old daughter was taken from them. Both were imprisoned and removed from a drug-fueled lifestyle.
Promotional materials for his presentations say Ballenger finds purpose in life by helping young people who have dug themselves into the same hopeless pit he found himself in.
He told the audience that if he could get out of the pit, anyone can.
Among those who attended the event was Natalie Bollon, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Tuscarawas and Carroll Counties.
She said she appreciated the message delivered by New Philadelphia Mayor Joel B. Day, who talked about the need to stop sweeping mental health problems under the rug, as did Ballenger.
"Everyone's family has somebody that's struggling with it," Bollon said. "And I think the more that we can talk about that, and own that this is a problem that's everywhere, the bigger the chance we have of not having it be an epidemic anymore."
Kristie Wilkin, co-chairman of the event, said, "It takes a village to have an event of this magnitude, and I want to thank everyone that had a part in making this fourth Suicide Prevention Walk a huge success. Vickie Fisher and I have an excellent planning committee, and through the success of our 225 walkers, our sponsors and everyone that donated or helped in some way we were able to raise over $13,000 at this year's walk for suicide prevention initiatives in our local counties. I also want to recognize the ADAMHS Bd. of Tuscarawas and Carroll Co. for overseeing our funds, and supporting our mission to prevent suicide.
"I have been a suicide prevention advocate for over seven years now, and this is the first Suicide Prevention/Awareness Month (held annually in September) where I felt our mission is being supported and recognized by those not necessarily affected by suicide. I contribute a lot of this to the wonderful publicity we received from local newspapers and radio stations this year. The word is really getting out there that the Tusc./Carroll Co. Survivor of Suicide Loss Group is doing everything in our power to prevent suicide. More and more events are being planned in the next several months with walk monies that will further keep this movement constant in the community. Once we can fully erase the stigma concerning mental illness and suicide in people 's minds - another goal on our list will be complete.
"My group's GateKeeper Training is becoming a very popular tool to prevent suicide, and myself, Jenn Dotto, and Pam Leyda are certified to teach this class, and our goal is to get everyone we can trained to be able to recognize someone that be suicidal and for them to know the resources available locally to help that person."