Fayette County

Lexington block party celebrates teen's life, raises money for suicide prevention

Savannah Brant, 15, had the date that her friend Stuart took his own life written on her cheek Saturday.
Savannah Brant, 15, had the date that her friend Stuart took his own life written on her cheek Saturday. Lexington Herald-Leader

A block party fund-raiser in Lexington's Meadow Creek neighborhood Saturday drew hundreds of visitors and helped raise thousands of dollars for suicide prevention.

The event was dedicated to the memory of Stuart Shields, a 16-year-old Tates Creek High School student who took his life last month.

The purpose of the block party was threefold, said Kassie Bennett, the event's organizer: to honor Stuart's memory, to raise funds for worthwhile causes and to bring awareness about suicide, which kills more Kentucky teenagers each year than every disease combined.

"Until we start talking about it, these numbers are never going to go down," she said. "And our kids are worth it. It's time to get our heads out of the sand."

Bennett, a neighbor of Stuart's father, said she initially planned the event simply as a neighborhood show of support. However, as more and more people took notice and offered to help, she recognized it was a chance to do some real good.

Bennett obtained a permit from the city to close Fieldmoor Drive to traffic and solicited restaurants such as Chick-fil-A, Texas Roadhouse and KFC to cater the party. When vendors learned of the event's message, they jumped at the chance to contribute, she said.

"I did not have one person in the entire city of Lexington tell me no," she said.

About 4:30 p.m., about an hour and a half after the event started, Bennett already had raised about $2,000, she said.

Funds were raised from $5 to $10 admission, ticket sales for games and concessions, and live and silent auctions. Half of the money will go to Stop Youth Suicide, a grassroots awareness organization founded by Dr. Hatim Omar, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Kentucky and a leading authority on youth suicide. The other half will be used to start a scholarship fund for underprivileged Tates Creek High School students who want to play lacrosse.

Stuart was a midfielder on the Tates Creek lacrosse team, said Andy Tarter, the team's coach. Team members, many of whom came to the block party, dedicated this year's season to Stuart's memory.

With food vendors, games, and the Lexington band Harmonic Dilemma playing classic rock songs while using a flatbed trailer as a stage, the fun and festive atmosphere seemed at times to belie the event's message.

However, events like the party play an important role in reducing stigma and creating a conversation about teen suicide, which is the second leading cause of death for teens in Kentucky.

"If an activity like this can bring more people to at least know that suicide is a big killer — the second-biggest killer of teenagers in the state, essentially, after car accidents — then that's a good thing," Omar said.

Omar said about 30 percent of teen suicides are "same-day events," he said, meaning they are carried out with little or no warning.

Members of Stuart's family have said there was no indication Stuart was depressed, and they said they think his suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary problem. They do not know what drove him to end his life.

"If all this awareness can save one life, then it's worth it," Bennett said. "And we can celebrate the life of Stuart."

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