YMCA to host run/walk to honor Brookville teen

BROOKVILLE — Those who were closest to him said Connor Gerg could make friends with anyone.

This was especially true at school and at the Brookville YMCA, Tina Householder said, where Connor spent most of his time.

"Although I wasn't in school with him, I saw that he had such a gift of being friends with everybody," Householder said. "And he often helped the underdog. He was such a kind, kind kid."

Sunday, Feb. 19, the Brookville YMCA is hosting Share the Love, a run/walk event to honor the life Connor lived.

"This means so much," Householder said. "Just for all the family members that are hurting, our (YMCA) staff that's hurting, the kids that are hurting. I think it's a great way just to show love for one day — to be able to embrace people and say, it's OK to hurt, it's OK to cry, you have support. Personally, it's an awesome event. It means so much."

Householder, who runs the Y as CEO, believed it appropriate to host the event because of Connor's "awesome" history at the Y.

Connor grew up at the facility, attending day care, nursery school and swim and basketball classes.

When he turned 16, he traded in his student hat for a lifeguard uniform and began to work for Householder.

"His work ethic for a 16-year-old was just unheard of," Householder said. "Words cannot express how much we miss him, in all ways. When you're here, you're here more than you are with your own family. He was one of our own."

Although hosted by the YMCA, Share the Love is also being sponsored by family and friends in memory of Connor, who took his own life in August 2011.

The creation of Share the Love was a collaborative effort, which stemmed from a great need Connor's mother, Beth Gerg, saw in the community.

“Connor was a friend to many,” she said. “The intent of this event is to provide our community with a positive and healthy way to respond to the tragedy of (Connor’s) death by suicide.”

According to Gerg, affirmatively honoring a life lost to suicide by working for and donating to a worthy cause is an effective means of coping, especially for students.

This affirmative response is referred to as suicide postvention and is one component of suicide prevention, Gerg said.

“This will help (Connor’s friends) deal with their grief from losing him, but they’re dealing with it by working for a cause — a good cause that benefits our town,” she said. “And seeing the tragedy that it invokes can actually be a deterrent for people having (suicidal) thoughts.”

Many students, friends and businesses have come together to contribute to the upcoming event, including Connor’s close friend and fellow lifeguard Ali Ruffner, who designed the logos and tree symbol that have been incorporated into shirts, headwear, bracelets and decals.

“When you look at the tree and the way it was designed, you think of life — life and love and sharing,” Gerg said. “Sharing the love and support. When we saw it, we were like, ‘That’s the one, that’s the one right there.’”

Other classmates of Connor’s have also played a key role in making Share the Love a success, selling merchandise and volunteering their services for the event.

All proceeds from Share the Love will benefit the YMCA.

“Connor was involved with the YMCA all of his life, from pre-school and participation in program events to his recent employment as a lifeguard,” Gerg said. “It was the obvious choice for us in selecting a charitable cause, as it serves every age group in our community and is especially important as a positive influence for our youth. ... The mission of the YMCA is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body.”

Householder said she is so grateful to the Gerg family for its decision.
“It’s awesome for the family to decide that,” she said. “It’s wonderful for us.”

In addition to the merchandise sale, Share the Love will include a one-mile or 5K walk or run, with pre-registration to begin at 12:30 p.m. and the actual event to begin at 2 p.m., with the start and finish at the Brookville YMCA.

Prizes will be awarded in the run categories, and all participants will receive a Share the Love shirt and gift bag.

People can also enter their name into a raffle to win four tickets to see the Pittsburgh Penguins March 22.

But those who do not wish to run or walk can enjoy the hot soup sale.
Furthermore, Householder and Gerg will also hand out information from Clearfield Jefferson Suicide Prevention.

“We got started with this at the urging of my friends and of Connor’s friends,” Gerg said. “We planned it in response to a need.”

Share the Love was planned, she said, even before she, her son Christian Gerg and her husband, Thomas, were ready to do it.

But she also said family members are not the only classification of suicide survivors.

“That’s Connor’s friends, the family of Connor’s friends, and in a small town, it’s really the whole community,” Gerg said. “And in talking with Connor’s classmates, (his suicide) is still an issue for them. So this is something they feel really good about doing. It was really in response to an awful lot of people saying, ‘Boy, it would be great to do something.’”

Connor’s classmates are planning to wear the Share the Love shirts during school Tuesday, which is his birthday.

“This is a way for them to process their grief, and they may be doing that their whole lives, but this is a healthy way for them to do that,” Gerg said.

She and Householder also hope Share the Love becomes an annual event.
Gerg thought it was important to have it in place while Connor’s friends, a majority of whom are juniors and seniors in high school, are still in the area.

And in the future, the Brookville YMCA would like to expand the lobby and build a teen room in Connor’s memory from the proceeds received immediately following Connor’s death.

“Share the Love is about honoring the life that (Connor) had and celebrating the wonderful life he had when he was here,” Householder said. “It’s letting all kids know that they’re loved, and it’s a way for us to show our love for Connor.”

For more information about Share the Love, call the Brookville YMCA at 814-849-7355.