Palmerton Area students continue to mourn in the aftermath of the death of a high school student who took his life.
Jim Tkach of the Bo Tkach Memorial Foundation, spoke to high school students on Friday one week after PAHS sophomore Nick Bickowski was found dead in his home on Jan. 22. He was 16.
Earlier in the day, Tkach spoke with junior high students about Bickowski. Tkach also visited the high school auditorium on Thursday, at which time he spoke with students and community members.
A funeral service for Bickowski was held Thursday at Faith Alive United Methodist Church, Bowmanstown. After Bickowski's burial at the Towamensing cemetery, high school students released balloons in his memory.
Tkach said the foundation was created by he and his wife, Sandy, in honor of their son, Bo Tkach, who committed suicide in 2007 at the age of 25.
High school Principal Kathy Egan told the students before the presentation that they were about to be part of a "very worthwhile program."
"It's something we all need, given what we've just experienced, because it has affected us all in some way," Egan said. "This is much needed information to help us heal and move forward."
Tkach began the program and immediately expressed his condolences to the students with regard to Bickowski.
Tkach then went on to explain the circumstances that led to the death of his son, Bo.
"We went through this as parents," Tkach said. "It's never expected, even though he was ill from the time he was 12."
Tkach then told the students he felt the same way they felt once they learned of Bickowski's situation.
"Last Friday, I was as sick as all of you," he said. "I can honestly say that because I lost my son (in the same manner)."
Tkach then explained the purpose behind the program, and what it seeks to accomplish.
"It's to try to get you back on track," he said. "It takes time, but you will get back if you want to."
At that, Tkach announced that the foundation will eventually award the first $5,000 scholarship in Bickowski's name to a student.
Tkach explained that Bo was diagnosed with "severe depression" while a middle school student in the Palmerton Area School District.
Tkach, who was head football coach at Northern Lehigh High School, said a decision was made at that point to move to Northern Lehigh in order for Bo to be close by.
"We knew then we had to get him help," he said. "He was ill, so we needed him with us to try to make this thing work."
Tkach then spoke of the tragic experience when he found his son on the day he took his life.
"There's a misunderstanding that's out there," he said. "When something like this happens, nobody knows what to do."
Tkach said his family was able to get through the ordeal thanks to the support of others.
"Many people reached out to us," he said. "That's what you need to do, reach out."
Tkach said one tip to recovery for the students as they attempt to deal with the loss of Bickowski is to achieve what he referred to as a "new normal."
"Our lives changed last Friday," he said. "You're either not going to, or are going to, make a decision to try to establish Nick in your life, but it's going to take time."
Tkach told the students it's important for them to take "tiny little steps."
"In your heart, you establish a little memorial for Nick, because that's what you do," he said. "He is not forgotten."
Tkach said his son, Tyler, and daughter, Tristan, named the foundation.
"I went through guilt, blaming myself, because we had an argument that day because he went out drinking the night before," he said. "He wasn't supposed to drink because he was on medication."
Tkach told the students that "depression is an illness."
"As bad as last Friday was, we need to put it all aside this Friday," he said. "This Friday, you need to come together."
Tkach told the students no one was at fault for the circumstances that led to Bickowski's death.
"There's no blame for what happened to Nick, and no blame for what happened to him (Bo)," he said. "Do I cry? I've cried every single day since I lost my son."
Tkach said the goal of the program is to promote mental health awareness.
"We got to release the stigma," he said. "We want to encourage relationships, and educate our communities."
Tkach then lauded the district for hosting the program.
"In the two years to have this program, you're the first public school to have us in," he said. "You're school district had the guts."
Sandy Tkach, Bo's mother, took a brief moment to address the students.
"Bo became a shadow of himself," Sandy said. "He battled it for a long time, and we're hoping you can battle it and help out."
The district has an Emergency Response Team made up of professionals trained to help with the needs of students, parents and school personnel. The high school also has counselors available for any student who may need or want help or any type of assistance.
In addition, the district has announced on its Web site that a fund is being established for the Bickowski family. Any contributions should be sent to or dropped off at the First National Bank of Palmerton at Fourth and Lafayette, Palmerton. Donations should be made out to Benefit for Nick Bickowski.
The mission of the foundation, Jim Tkach said, is to create awareness for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other mental health issues while providing essential funding for youth athletic programs, scholarships and otherwise inaccessible individual mental health screening and treatment.
Through youth athletics, public awareness and financial assistance, the foundation attempts to promote positive mental health for students in the area, and annually benefit 1,000 or more students.
The goal of the foundation on an annual basis is to: provide scholarship awards to deserving student athletes in Northeastern Pennsylvania; provide significant funding for many youth athletic programs in the area; provide financial assistance to students who would not otherwise have access to mental health screening and treatment; and support mental health awareness and educate parents to recognize the potential warning signs and symptoms.
Under the program, young adults who need mental health evaluations but are unable to get an appointment because of the lack of insurance can call the MH/MR Intake Unit at (610) 377-0773 or Jamie Drake, treatment program manager at the Carbon-Monroe-Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission at (610) 377-5177 ext. 105.
For more information, visit botkach.com.