Patrick’s Purpose Foundation Offers Resources, Scholarships, Hope

Jan 19, 2024

by Courtney Ellis

Patrick Turner as a young boy

On January 27, 2018, 16-year-old Patrick Turner died by suicide. His family and friends were floored. By all outward measures Patrick seemed to be a happy, well-adjusted teenager. He enjoyed playing sports, attended confirmation classes at St. Mark Presbyterian, had dozens of loving friends and family, and got good grades.

“We were just so shocked,” said his mother, Kim Turner. “There were no signs. He wasn’t bullied, there were no drugs or alcohol, he wasn’t gaming until all hours of the night…” Patrick hadn’t gone without a word, however. He left behind three letters.

“He just decried the pressure that our community as a whole puts on kids to get perfect grades,” said Turner. “He said, ‘What about the nice kid? What about the kid who sat with somebody who was alone at lunch?’ It was basically a call to our community to wake up.”

One of Patrick’s letters was addressed to unnamed teachers who he felt pressured him too much academically. It ended with two words signaling a call to action: “Make changes.”

Out of the excruciating pain of losing a child, the Turner family took Patrick’s call literally, founding Patrick’s Purpose Foundation with Kim as its Executive Director. According to the foundation’s website, Patrick’s Purpose is an organization created to “honor Patrick’s legacy and character through making the positive changes that he wished for.”

Patrick’s Purpose aims to “promote mental wellness in schools and create a student-driven culture of kindness through educational programs and initiatives.” In addition, it awards scholarships to students each year who choose to attend a community college or vocational school.

Each year’s biggest fundraising and community event is an annual two-mile walk that takes place through neighborhoods of Newport Beach on or near December 21, Patrick’s birthday.

2022 Patrick’s Purpose Walk

“Patrick wanted everyone to be kinder to one another,” said Hayes Noble, Associate Pastor at St. Mark. Noble attended the most recent walk. “It is really exciting to see so many people,” he said, noting that the 2023 walk was the best attended one yet. “But [it was] even more exciting to see so many young people passionate about mental health.”

Turner said that one of her hopes for parents, teachers, and church leaders would be that they would talk about mental health with children as young as elementary school. “The feeling is that we could catch [kids] earlier, before they’re in high school where everything seems to be a bigger problem and things can spiral dramatically,” she said.

As part of this outreach to elementary school children, Patrick’s Purpose started a Buddy Bench program, providing benches to elementary school campuses. Noted Turner, the equipment comes with “curriculum teaching kids that it’s a place to sit if you are having a tough morning or you need a pal or you want to be invited to play.” It was important to Patrick to recognize and reach out to kids who were having a tough day, and the Buddy Bench program is one more way the foundation seeks to honor his memory by making children’s time at school a little bit friendlier.

A buddy bench

For older students, Patrick’s Purpose holds regular education events for parents and teens on mental health. “We’ve had some team talks and been invited to high school campuses during Suicide Awareness Week and Mental Health Month to talk to kids about talking to their friends, and, if they’re worried about their friends, talking to a trusted adult,” said Turner. “We’ve also hosted some parent education nights where we’ll bring in experts. We have a couple more of those coming up.”

Teen mental health challenges have been on the rise. The 2023 APA article titled, “Kids’ mental health is in crisis,” quoted psychologist Kimberly Hoagwood, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University. Said Hoagwood, “We’re seeing really high rates of suicide and depression, and this has been going on for a while.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2019, nearly 10% of children ages 3-17 suffered from anxiety, while 4.4% suffered from depression. The numbers have only increased since the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association, 20% of teens have seriously considered suicide.

If you or your congregation are interested in partnering with Patrick’s Purpose by hosting or attending one of their free events, offering a donation, sponsoring a Buddy Bench, or volunteering to help at the annual walk, you can contact the Patrick’s Purpose team here.

Noble encourages anyone interested in Patrick’s Purpose to especially consider joining next year’s walk. “I came out with my whole family,” he said. “We were surrounded by just gobs of people. It was a beautiful day. St. Mark always has a delegation that goes because we truly believe in what the Turner family and Patrick’s Purpose are about, the mission of supporting mental health for young people.”

For the past two years, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos has provided funding for multiple Buddy Benches as well as a sponsorship for the annual walk. What a privilege it is to partner with such a meaningful and purposeful organization.

If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal ideation, call 988 for the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or connect online at 988lifeline.org.

Courtney Ellis, Associate Pastor at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, is an author and storyteller. Courtney will be reporting over the next few months on the presbytery’s mission partnerships.