“In 2013, on Jan. 21, my life was kind of flipped upside down as I lost my father to suicide that day,” Paul Hohag said.

Metro area country music fans may know Hohag by his nickname and initials PT, a radio personality on 102.9 The Wolf. The “T” stands for Hohag’s middle name which was also his father’s name, Thomas.

After tragedy struck his family and battling his own depression, Hohag founded the LIVIN Foundation and movement to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

HOPE, HELP AND HUGS

Hohag said the mission of LIVIN is to start conversations about mental health and suicide and spread “hope, help and hugs.” This is done through a variety of efforts, including speaking engagements at schools and other events, where volunteers like Hohag tell personal stories and inspire open dialogue around mental health.

“We want to give them hope. We think that hope is incredibly important, because sometimes you just need to let people know that somebody cares,” Hohag said.

Additionally, a family retreat at Camp Courage in Maple Lake was organized this past spring. During the camp, families who recently suffered a loss partook in a weekend of relaxing activities. “It’s just an opportunity for them to reconnect as a family after a loss,” Hohag said.

Even though families may never be the same after a season of suffering, Hohag said LIVIN wants to create a space where family bonds can be strengthened as much as possible and campers leave with a feeling of, once again, hope. Plans to partner with Eden Prairie-based Brighter Days Grief Center and organize another retreat next year are already in the works.

Beyond hope, LIVIN offers help through providing a compilation of online resources on their website and a financial grant program. Each quarter the foundation gives out financial grants of up to $1,500 to individuals or families we have battled something in the realm of mental illness, like medical bills or tombstones — emotionally-loaded, unexpected expenses. The idea for financial aid sparked from a personal experience Hohag went through at his dad’s funeral where someone anonymously picked up the bill for the luncheon that followed the service. “I get emotional now even thinking about it, that somebody cared that much just to say, ‘you know, we got you.’” Hohag said this token of kindness lingers like a comforting hug, and since then it has been a goal to pass that feeling along.

AWARENESS

LIVIN Foundation is organized completely by volunteers and became a certified nonprofit in March 2015. To fund the nonprofit’s efforts and to spread awareness and start sporadic conversations about mental health, the LIVIN website is stocked with shirts and bracelets repping the foundation name.

Last year, to take fundraising and awareness up a notch, Hohag organized a country music festival. “What better way to get the conversation started about mental health and mental illness, than to have a big gathering of thousands people kind of saying, we’re not going to be silent anymore and we’re not alone in this in this journey, in this struggle, or in this battle,” he said.

Although, having country connections helped Hohag coordinate the event and book talent, keeping the event country music-based was done with intention. “I feel like the conversation of mental health and mental illness is not as embraced at this point in the country landscape,” Hohag said. Rural living and lifestyles are intertwined with country music roots, so Hohag said it’s crucial for the foundation to start conversations in a time where many farmers are taking their lives and struggling in the farming community.

This year, another Get Busy LIVIN Festival is planned for Saturday, Sept. 21, in the midst of National Suicide Prevention Month. The lineup is stacked with local and national acts and includes, keynote speaker Kat Perkins of NBC’s ‘“The Voice” and performances by Phil Vassar, Roger Allen, Chris Kroeze, Anderson Daniels, Dayna Koehn, Erin Grand, Poppa Bear Norton, Ben Johnson and Shane Martin Band. There will also be a BBQ competition, kids activities and resource fair.

Gates to the festival will open at 12 p.m. at ERX Motor Park in Elk River. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time at universe.com/events/get-busy-livin-music-festival-tickets-elk-river-49JQ63.

For more information about the LIVIN Foundation, visit livinfoundation.org.

Copyright © 2018 at Sun Newspapers/ APG Media of East Central Minnesota. Digital dissemination of this content without prior written consent is a violation of federal law and may be subject to legal action.

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