New Lenox Patriot | 22nd Century Media
Sean Hastings, Contributing Editor 4:00 am CST January 7, 2020
The “cute” idea ForeverU founder Ryan Hesslau, of Mokena, had seven years ago when he was 16 years old about empowering the youth to overcome adversity has gained traction over the last few years.
And it’s only going to get stronger in 2020 as he and his ForeverU team are planning to bring the organization’s first community empowerment center to New Lenox.
Since ForeverU was founded, it has been focused on personal development programs, which included retreats, camps and after-school programs.
Although the facility will be in New Lenox, it is still intended to serve the entire Lincoln-Way community.
Hesslau said something he is always thinking about is scalability, as in how can he one day bundle all these programs together and see that central location feed into everything they do.
“We finalized a really unique program model where we have a personal development retreat at Camp Manitoqua every fall, winter and spring,” Hesslau said. “That’s the first program we send a kid through.”
The model for the retreat is that a student should not have to go back. Once they go to one, they are integrated into ForeverU. And the mentor they had during the retreat remains to be their mentor after. The volunteering program also will be looked at as ForeverU’s college program.
After attending the retreat, students unlock access to a personal development camp in July.
“So if we encounter a parent, family or student that would benefit from our programming, we send them through the retreat,” Hesslau said. “They’ll learn a road map, safety plan and leave and be enrolled in an after-school program that connects them to a mentor and peer support group to help stay on track.”
The new facility will especially help with that.
It is meant to be a safe haven for the youth, and through it ForeverU will offer life readiness programs and initiatives to destress them, excel as human beings, and prepare them for college and jobs.
“What we wanted to do last year is plug into this model for a centered location where many of these students can go after school hours for support and use it as a way to educate, equip and empower these kids,” Hesslau said.
“For us, we want to provide them with a launch pad for the rest of their lives.”
And over the years, ForeverU has been able to do that. It would have been easy to give up for Hesslau early on, though.
Only about four people, who were mostly his friends, showed up to his first event. That event was held in the New Lenox Village Commons. So, for Hesslau, “it’s always been New Lenox.”
Seeing it grow and the thought of it getting even bigger keeps him up at night, whether that be from being excited about where ForeverU is headed, or the stresses that come from building this organization.
“I never thought I’d be in an office, even,” Hesslau said. “It’s the weirdest thing to see things manifest. I’m grateful.”
Even when things get tough, he’s not going anywhere.
“Once I start looking at these kids, I see them as my own,” he said. “I could never abandon them. Sometimes kids have bailed and stopped talking to me and stopped participating in our programs, but then they come back and we pick up where we left off. There’s never any grudges.”
Hesslau believes some of the students he deals with don’t need treatment, though of course some do, but he strongly believes in one principle: People need people.
“I feel for the outcasts, the kids sitting by themselves at lunch and having a difficult time,” he said. “I just want to give them a chance to realize that someone cares. I think that’s huge.
“They just need people who are going to listen. Once we have an actual brick and mortar and it’s a site they can see, we’ll inform communities that ForeverU is coming to New Lenox [and] what is going to be happening. We’ll reintroduce the mission.”
He truly believes that they are saving lives. He had one student share a story at the end of a retreat like they usually do and the student said they were thinking about committing suicide, but ForeverU helped them see they have something to live for. And suicide was part of the start of ForeverU when Hesslau was in high school.
Hesslau is hopeful that those who are struggling find out about ForeverU’s services, and, with that motivation in mind, he plans to continue building and broadening ForeverU. Hesslau sees the vision, but he is hoping the community does, as well.
ForeverU broke up the fundraising into different phases to handle the estimated $280,000-$300,000 operating budget. The goal right now is to raise $80,000 to get the doors open, as they are figuring that is enough to carry through a year or two.
He is looking for local business owners who believe in the vision he has and would like to help. Those interested can email Hesslau at firstname.lastname@example.org, as he said he would like to just have 15 minutes of time over a cup of coffee to discuss financial partnership.
“We really want this to be an energetic, fast-paced facility with social impact happening,” he said.
“There’s so many challenges in the world right now. If we can give the kids tools to show the world what they’re made of, we’re in a really good place.”
Families and students who are interested in ForeverU’s services can register through the ForeverU website at www.foreverumovement.org. The website also offers more information on the retreats, after-school programs and more. Additionally, if one is interested in supporting the organization, they can attend the annual gala on March 14 at Tuscany Falls in Mokena.