ST. ALBANS CITY — The money hundreds of community members spent on tickets to a memorable music festival last month is now in the hands of local groups working to prevent suicide.
The Afterglow Foundation’s board of directors distributed $55,000 Tuesday to four organizations outside the Greg Brown Lodge at Hard’Ack Recreation Area. The money was raised in September, at the annual Afterglow Music Festival, which celebrates the life of A.J. Holzscheiter.
St. Albans Recreation, the Vermont Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and Josh’s House each received checks for $5,000. The majority of this year’s funds — $35,000 — went to Northwestern Counseling and Support Services (NCSS).
“We do a lot of things, but donations like this allow us to focus it all around a unified goal,” Todd Bauman, executive director at NCSS told the Messenger.
In the wake of their son AJ’s death, St. Albans residents John Holzscheiter and Andrea Wells started Afterglow in 2019. The foundation raises money for Franklin County-based suicide prevention through a music festival held annually on AJ’s birthday weekend at Hard’Ack.
The inaugural concert raised $27,000, while the second, held Sept. 18, collected more than double through ticket and apparel sales.
“One of our major missions with Afterglow was to develop programs that provide resources and educate parents on how to talk to our kids about suicide,” Holzscheiter told the Messenger ahead of this year’s event.
He said the foundation also wanted to see programs teach kids how to identify signs of depression or suicidal thoughts in themselves and in their peers.
How organizations will use the donation
With the $15,000 it received in 2019, NCSS implemented many of these types of programs in Franklin County schools. Now with an additional $35,000, it can extend its reach even further, Dr. Steve Broer, NCSS’ Behavioral Health Services director, told the Messenger.
“We hope to facilitate trainings with occupational therapists, athletic trainers and coaches,” he said.
Andrea Gagner-Murphy, executive development director at the Josh Palotta Fund, said Afterglow’s $5,000 would be put toward the Josh’s House food program, which supplies a hot meal everyday to participating Vermont veterans.
This year was the Fund’s first as part of Afterglow, and Gagner-Murphy said she was happy she could be there. Though the Fund was started in 2014, Josh’s House, its veteran-designed recreation space in Colchester, just opened in March.
St. Albans Recreation Director Kelly Viens said the department’s community activities will be able to run at no or little cost thanks to Afterglow’s donation. The check for $5,000 might also be put towards recreation equipment and scholarships.
In addition, the Afterglow Foundation is funding the building of stairs at Hard’Ack, connecting the soccer field to the base of the ski and sledding hill. Viens said this will make the site more accessible to more people.
Debbie Babbie, chair of the Vermont chapter of AFSP, said Afterglow’s donation brings AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Burlington Walk total to just under $100,000 — far exceeding the goal of $45,000.
Babbie said she’s proud that only 20% of donations to AFSP go toward administrative expenses. The majority of money raised supports the organization’s mission of funding suicide research and supplying prevention programs and educational resources.
What’s next for Afterglow
Though the 2021 Afterglow Music Festival was just last month, Holzscheiter said the board is already looking to next year. The date for the 2022 event is set for Sept. 17, and the headliner is already booked.
This spring, the committee hopes to plant a field of sunflowers at Hard’Ack in honor of Avery Vaillancourt, an Enosburg resident who was recently lost to suicide.
The foundation also recently launched an apparel store. Community members can shop t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats online or at JC Image on Walnut Street in St. Albans.
All proceeds will be put towards the 2022 Afterglow fund, the sum of which will again be distributed to community organizations. Orders placed now will be available in time for holiday gift-giving, Holzscheiter said.