Saturday, July 17, 2010

Lights in the Darkness and the Symbol of the Star

Just weeks after my brother died in 2004, our family and his friends from across his lifespan started holding conference calls as we brainstormed our vision for the Carson J Spencer Foundation. The calls were as therapeutic as they were productive. While all of those participating loved him, not all of the friends knew each other at the beginning of our planning since they were acquainted with my brother at difference ages and places in his life. As we shared stories and ideas, we came together in our grief and our shared mission.

One of the early tasks of the group was to come up with a logo for the organization. Because Carson was such a prominent business man in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News, one of Denver’s main papers, interviewed several family members for a featured obituary following his death. The article closed with a quote from Carson’s mother-in-law, “he was a star who shone so brightly that he just burned out too quickly."

[Photo courtesy of bm01 via Flickr]

Indeed, my brother was a star in many ways. A shooting star who rose quickly as an entrepreneur in his industry and gained the admiration of many. He also had the ability to light up any room with his charming smile and pee-in-your-pants humor. His spirit was brilliant. And when stars die, their light shines on in the darkness.

One Yale professor once speculated, “…starlight, traveling in space forever, could be interpreted as an expression of immortality….long after stars have ‘died,’ photons of their energy – i.e., their light – continue to exist….It has been said that humans are made of the same stuff as stars – and we share the same energies.” --Schwartz, Garry (2002). The Afterlife Experiments. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

We wanted the Carson J Spencer Foundation to be the light of his legacy, carrying on his goodness and his spirit. Carson’s expressed legacy before he died was to help young emerging entrepreneurs get to college, so we started the Rising Star Scholarship to honor that wish. As we also acknowledged his gift of helping others and our desire to prevent what happened to him from happening to others, we began a number of programs in a social entrepreneurial spirit that are designed to prevent suicide, promote mental health, and assist those bereaved in our community. His light shines on.

The idea of stars in the dark is also the message we are trying to extend to those suffering in silence. Many have told me that being depressed feels like being trapped in a dark place with no way out. Loving, caring people can provide those inspiring points of light in the dark by offering connection and support as they hold the hope for the hopeless. Sometimes, those who are suffering can’t feel the warmth of the glow of these supporters initially, but they can be reassured by their presence and the realization that others care.

For these reasons, we have called our annual gala “Shining Lights of Hope” and we aim to recognize those individuals and organizations in our community who support the work of suicide prevention and provide compassionate assistance to those in pain. Each year we award those who have stood above the others as stars. The “Shining Lights of Hope” award goes to an individual or group that has been bereaved by suicide or who has experienced a mental health crisis and has turned that suffering into a passion to make a difference. The “Shooting Star” award goes to a organization that has selflessly gone out of their way to help our cause. Our “Volunteer of the Year” award celebrates the volunteer who has contributed significantly to moving us forward, and of course, our “Rising Star Scholar” is our chosen high school entrepreneur who receives our scholarship to help with four years of college tuition.

It’s been five years since Carson’s death, and many of us still feel the pain of his loss on a daily basis. We are comforted in part, knowing that we are living in the light of his legacy and that we are bringing forward a galaxy of stars who shine their light in the darkness for others.

…and lights shine on.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Working Minds Contest -- Celebrating Mentally Healthy Workplaces in Colorado

With so much focus on toxic workplaces and the stress of the economy on the employee, the Carson J Spencer Foundation decided to do something a little bit different: focus on the workplaces that are getting it right. While we know many workplaces are suffering under intense pressure resulting in bullying, depression, and dissatisfaction among the ranks, other workplaces have found ways to not only survive this rough spot, but to help their staff thrive. In recognition of this, the Carson J Spencer Foundation is hosting a contest to acknowledge mentally healthy workplaces, application due date is July 22, 2010.


  • Must be a Colorado workplace (nonprofit, for-profit or governmental)
  • Innovative and effective approaches that promote mental health at work
    • New and creative methods
    • Positive outcomes
Contest Guidelines: Submit 500-word essay that answers the question: How is mental health promoted at your workplace? What do you do and how do you know that the strategies are effective (case studies and statistics are both welcome as evidence)? Consider the following questions:

  • How do you educate your workforce about mental health as part of overall wellness?
  • What are the practices and policies that minimize distress at work?
  • How does the workplace support those who are experiencing mental illness, trauma or bereavement?
  • How does the workplace promotes a sense of purpose and belonging?

First, second and third place awards given. Recognition at our Shining Lights of Hope Benefit Auction Evening on August 28th at LeMay Auto Museum. Awards include: complementary seats at our event, one year membership to the Working Mind Network, a free Working Minds Toolkit and training, and recognition as a "mentally healthy workplace" in local media outlets and on the Working Minds website.

Applications should be sent electronically to Sally Spencer-Thomas: For more information or to get an application call 720-244-6535.