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Youth mental health charity opening 6 new chapters at GTA schools

Jack.org, a charity that encourages young leaders to talk about mental health, is opening six new chapters at Toronto schools, in memory of Jack Windeler who died by suicide in 2010.

'Peer to peer connection' key to success of Jack.org program, its founder says

Eric Windeler started the charity Jack.org in memory of his son who died by suicide in 2010. The organization will open six new chapters in the GTA in 2017. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Seven years ago, Jack Windeler was heading back to Kingston, Ont., from Toronto after the Christmas holidays to continue his studies as a first-year student at Queen's University.

Less than three months later, his parents received a call from the police, letting them know that their son had died by suicide.

Jack's death came a shock, but his parents say they found strength through giving back, by starting a conversation about depression and mental illness that has evolved into a national charity called Jack.org. 

"We started out by deciding to be open about this story, and six or seven years ago that wasn't as common as it is today," said Eric Windeler, Jack's father and co-founder of the organization.

"We just couldn't have imagined what has come of this ... we've helped a lot of people," Windeler said.  

Mental health for students, by students

Now, Jack.org prompts the conversation about mental health in many schools, encouraging young leaders to talk to their peers. There are more than 100 chapters of the organization across Canada, and by the end of January six more chapters will open in Toronto-area schools.

Jack.org tailors its talks to high school aged students as they prepare to make the transition to post-secondary education, when many will leave home and their support networks. 

"It's really a great peer to peer connection," Windeler said. "It's quite transformational for students to get involved and help others." 

Creating Jack.org helped the young man's family deal with their tragedy — and Windeler said it's inspiring to see it help others. 

"We're reaching a lot of young people all across the country." 

With files from CBC's Metro Morning