Sam Lustgarten Always Remember Speech

In search of hope amidst great pain

To save money on housing and food, I decided to become a resident assistant as an undergraduate student. That decision put me on a collision course with residents dealing with serious mental health concerns. The transition to college was always different — some people eased right into it and others struggled.

I loved my residents, and thought we had an incredible academic year. It was April when everything changed. A resident died by suicide. As one of the first responders to the scene, the visuals caused an aching, grinding weight over my chest. Over the course of the next six months, two more people in my life would die by suicide.

It shattered me. There were many days in which getting up was a trial. I’d leave classes early to go into a bathroom and cry. I remember feeling lonely and isolated in my pain. It took that heartache and tragedy to find hope for something better.

Always Remember Fundraise Plan

Part of my proposal to administrators.

Finding, honing an inspiration

I was desperate for action. Then, a flash of energy hit me in one sleepless night nearly a year after the first suicide. I wanted to start a scholarship to fund undergraduate students who wanted to pursue suicide prevention and/or work with those suffering from severe mental health concerns.

Over the course of the next month, I created a proposal for the university and told them how I would fund an endowment (a self-supporting — through interest — scholarship). I explained that I had been talking to friends and family. Altogether, we could scrounge up about $2,000 to start.

They told me I could try, but I’d need to fundraise $25,000 within 5 years.

I said, “Deal.”

Make the first donation

When I started the scholarship I had about $500 in my bank account. I had few assets. Still, I sold everything I could and donated a couple hundred dollars to start the scholarship. It was less than 1% of what I’d need to raise, and it hurt to give that much (especially since I’d need to take out student loans soon after that). No financial advisor would say it was wise.

I had to give everything I could. My head and heart were sucked into this powerful idea — hope through tragedy. I don’t regret giving as much as I did then or over the years. It fueled my passion to seek donors and encourage others to join me.

Realize your connection to community

With almost every cause, there’s a community of support behind it. I realized I wasn’t alone in my distress and desire to make an impact. In fact, the community around my alma mater was incredibly supportive. They were eager to make a difference, as well. They had been affected by this issue.

I heard stories about lost loved ones — brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children. It hurt to hear the stories, but I only grew more connected to those around me. Eventually, students at a local high school started fundraising for the scholarship. It brings tears to just think about how meaningful that felt. A cynical part of me died when others began to donate. I didn’t know if anyone would support the cause.

Inspire yourself and others

Suicide Prevention Fundraiser

Group of supporters spent a day in the plaza providing information about the scholarship and suicide prevention.

The $2,000 wasn’t enough, and I felt a pressure to make this happen. I told everyone about the scholarship. Donations began to trickle into the scholarship account.

I shared on Facebook and Twitter — all over social media. Each time led to others sharing. The positive feedback was unmatched in my life. It felt amazing to be channeling such a dark period in my life.

Others were inspiring, pushing me to continue. Likewise, I seemed to inspire others. This shared, symbiotic relationship appeared to benefit everyone. My energy, which had long been depressed and negative, shifted.

That first summer, a massive, $5,000 donation was made. The idea of a scholarship to prevent suicide and provide awareness to this issue struck a chord with many who were affected in the community.

Throw away modesty, seek media attention

This is the trickiest part for some people. Seeking attention is something that society generally says is inappropriate. Unfortunately, far too many people think media will just come to you when they’re ready. I threw that lesson away as fast as I could.

Seek out media outlets! Talk to local papers, zines, and websites about your story and propose times for interviews. This has a tremendous snowball effect to getting donations and finding supporters. Media can be your best friend. You never know, you might just get the biggest paper in your state covering the scholarship and linking to it.

Endowed status!

After about 12 months — the fastest a scholarship has ever been fully endowed in the college — over $25,000 was raised. Whatever you’re looking to fundraise for, know that you can. Follow your passion, link others, connect with a community, give until it hurts, and seek some old fashioned media attention. You can do this.

If you would like to donate to the Always Remember Never Surrender suicide prevention scholarship I founded, head on over to: