Smiles For Jake Movement Hosts First “Smile Fest”
After tragedy struck two Brainerd families within the 2017-2018 school year, a new movement began that is seeking to change the dialogue around suicide.
When 16-year-old Jake Haapajoki tragically died by suicide in February of 2018, his fellow soccer teammates came together and wanted to do something. This spurred the Smiles for Jake movement.
“Jake’s family and Jake’s friends gathered together and said, ‘we need to do something to start to make change in our world.’ Jake was too young. He shouldn’t have left us,” said Smile Fest organizer Kristi Westbrock.
Smiles for Jake is a suicide prevention movement that aims to spread positivity through life-affirming actions, listening ears, and the message that everyone should have hope.
“One, the one-year anniversary of my son passing away, we came out to Smiles for Jake as a suicide prevention movement and our goal is to uplift and give people hope,” said Jake’s dad Eryk Haapajoki.
“Our belief is that if people live in a kinder world with more hope, more community, we can really start to be honest about mental health issues,” added Westbrock.
Now, six months after the movement was officially kicked off, the organization hosted their first annual Smile Fest. The free festival was held at the Brainerd Industrial Center. The goal of Smile Fest was just that: to spread smiles.
“Just seeing these people out here is what it’s all about. It’s just trying to bring families together. There’s a cause here with the awareness for mental health, but it’s really just an opportunity to be with people,” said Derek Owen, Brainerd Industrial Center marketing director.
Organizers invited Cuyuna Regional Medical Center to have trained behavioral health specialists on hand for anyone to talk to.
“Especially with adolescents in our community, many of them are maybe hesitant to reach out for help,” said Ken Fogal, a licensed psychologist with CRMC. “An event like this is just so wonderful to make it more out in the open.”
With Smile Fest and the Smiles for Jake movement, organizers want everyone to know that you are not alone, and it is okay to ask for help.
“Saying a little something to somebody who’s struggling can change their life and change the way that their day or their week or their month goes,” added Esme Pool, Miss Junior Teen Minnesota U.S. 2019 who volunteered at the event.
The Smiles for Jake movement is a prime example that even something as small as a smile can make a huge impact.
“That one moment, that one smile. That ability to make someone laugh can make all the difference in that person’s world and you might not even know it,” added Haapajoki. “So don’t take anything for granted.”
If anyone is interested in donating to or getting involved in the Smiles for Jake movement, they are asked to visit their website at smilesforjake.org.