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Turning Grief into Action, an Interview with The Becca Schmill Foundation

In this interview I sat down with Deb and Stu Schmill, Founders of The Becca Schmill Foundation, and talked about their experience turning grief into action,

The Becca Schmill Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization run by volunteers committed to honoring the memory of Becca Schmill who died of a fentanyl poisoning at on September 20, 2020, at the age of 18. The Foundation mission is to fund research, sponsor community programming, and advocate for policies that promote and safeguard the emotional wellbeing of adolescents and young adults. Our areas of focus are sexual assault, social media harms, and substance use but, the primary goal for everything we do is to reduce the occurrence of youth trauma.


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Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors

Deb Schmill 0:00
because there is an issue here that we need to face and we want to save children’s lives.

Jimmy Tingle 0:13
Hello, everybody. Welcome to today’s show. My name is Jimmy, thank you all so much for joining us today. Today we’re going to talk about parental grief and turn it into action, positive action. My guest today, Deb and Stu Schmell. They’re from Needham, Massachusetts, they lost a daughter, tragically in September of 2022, an accidental fentanyl poisoning. And they contacted me about doing a fundraiser for an organization, they’ve started in her name, the Becca Schmell Foundation. And we’re doing that on October 1, it’s all virtual. I’m going to be the host, the emcee the the entertainment, do a little comedy cheer people up, we’ll be doing an auction of funding needs. So it’s gonna we’re trying to turn a tragedy into positive action to help prevent this type of thing from happening, again, to fund research here in the Boston area, and around ultimately around the country. So I just want to welcome all of our listeners and viewers to the show. And especially please say hello to Deb and Stu Schmell. Hello, Deb. Hello, Stu. Good to see you again.

Deb Schmill 1:19
Thank you. Yeah. Hi, Jamie. Thanks.

Jimmy Tingle 1:23
Of course, of course. Well, it’s an honor to be with you today. And I just am so encouraged by the actions that you’re taking to try to turn something so negative into something positive to hopefully alleviate this type of thing from happening again. And I just wanted to, for our listeners, just to get the story of what exactly happened. Tell us about your data. Tell us about what happened. Tell us about yourself and what led up to this. And just a little background information.

Deb Schmill 1:57
Sure. Thank you for asking. So Becca was I think, fairly typical teenager, and she was fine and loving and sweet, compassionate. And things were going pretty well. And when she was 15, some older boys invited her and her friends to a small gathering and they serve them alcohol. And ultimately, my my daughter was in a state where she couldn’t really walk. And so when all the other kids went out, she was left behind with one boy, and he raped her. And that was the start of a downward spiral for her. After that, she was cyber bullied. And between the two traumas, she eventually turned to drugs to help her cope. And and like what often happens in these situations, it started with marijuana, but then it led to, you know, next she was trying more and more illicit drugs. And eventually, she and another girl picked up some drugs that unknown to them were laced with fentanyl. And it killed her.

Jimmy Tingle 3:27
And did she meet these guys online? Or were they good? Friends? They weren’t family, friends or classmates or anything?

Deb Schmill 3:36
No. So she, these boys joined a party chat that my daughter was part of with her friends. And that’s how they met. And over the course of it was I think two to three weeks or so they chatted online. And then eventually, the boys said why don’t we get together? And yeah, the girls felt they knew them. So. Right.

Jimmy Tingle 4:06
Right. And is this something I know you’ve been doing a lot of investigation, a lot of research into this. This is not apparently an isolated incident, this type of this type of scenario?

Deb Schmill 4:18
No, not at all. That is not an anomaly. We’ve met so many people in the last year, couple of years, who have had similar situations.

Jimmy Tingle 4:31
So Stu, you, you both got together and started to take some positive action around this to, you know, to obviously prevent it from happening again. And what exactly are you folks doing? Right, so

Stu Schmill 4:47
Well, when this happened a couple of years ago. I mean, first of all, we were shocked and then over the course of that first year we figured well, we could either or just kind of curl up and, you know, not engage in the world. Or we could see if we could do some kind of good to help others. And so we started a foundation with our family, family, our siblings and, and other family members really to try to help prevent, or at least diminish the occurrences of, of these things. And there, there are a lot of Roundup issues that we’ve talked about, right, there’s sexual assault is one. There’s how social media has really facilitated and made it easier for a lot of these negative behaviors to occur. Don’t know that they caused them so much as they really facilitate and accelerate, some of them.

Jimmy Tingle 5:58
I know, as we have been talking over the last couple of months, I’ve become familiar with what you’re trying to do. But for the benefit of our listeners, the response has been pretty positive from others. I mean, obviously, family members and friends, but also just from the general public, you were telling me that this is a huge need out there for more research. And tragically, so many people have been affected by this. And I know, Deb, you have been quite the activist over the last year. First of all, just tell me, what what type of response have you gotten? And tell me about the last year since you did your last events?

Deb Schmill 6:38
So the first we first fundraised for the Boston Medical Center catalyst clinic, which works with adolescents and young adults who are suffering from, from substance use disorders. And, and in the response to that was just overwhelming, we doubled our goal. And we just were amazed by the response. And we learned that everyone is touched by this, but people are not talking about it. Right? There are so many kids out there who are suffering. But we know that youth mental health issues were rising for a decade before the pandemic hit. And so kids who are struggling, and and when kids are struggling, you know, there’s a tendency to, to look to drugs to cope, it doesn’t make them immoral, it doesn’t make them you know, a bad person, they’re struggling, they need help. And if we don’t talk about this, then we can’t get to the root of it. And and help kids, we decided we really wanted to at least part of our focus to be making getting people comfortable with talking about these issues. And that also means sexual assault, it means in as they said drug use, it’s it’s talking very openly about the things that are going on in social media sextortion I could go on, there’s so many new terms that have been created for the harms from social media.

Jimmy Tingle 8:22
I’ve never heard of that one before. sextortion Yes.

Deb Schmill 8:24
And since social media, you’ve got predators who are seeking out young people, they ask them to set send them a nude photo. And and once they do, that predator uses that photo to either get money from the child or sex or additional photos or things like that. There are there’s this whole world out there on social media. And and kids are being targeted. And and so we need to be talking about it.

Jimmy Tingle 9:01
So still, yeah, I know you were talking about that you’re you know, you’re trying to turn this grief into action. And the money that you’re being raising is going to fund research with different organizations more than one. One of those organizations.

Stu Schmill 9:18
Right, so Deb mentioned that we funded Boston Medical Center the first year but we’ve also funded research projects with Boston Children’s Hospital. And the idea of these research projects have been focused on trying to develop an evidence base for the harms that students are experiencing that can be used to influence public policy because ultimately, we need a systemic answer to this right. We need a legislative answer

Jimmy Tingle 9:56
and Deb you were telling me off camera that you had a pretty event All year, this year in terms of what you would do in your activism, you would still Tell me Tell us about it.

Deb Schmill 10:07
Sure. So I took a trip to California, earlier in the year and with a group and of other mothers who’ve lost their children due to social media related incidences. And so yeah, we went to Mata or Facebook. And we had a film crew with us. And very Michael Moore style went up to Mata and tried to get in the door and present a some demands to them. And we didn’t make it in the door. But it security told us we need to leave. But but it was, it was certainly an interesting experience. Yeah, and I’ve also had the opportunity to be part of the Drug Enforcement agency’s first family summit for people who have experienced overdose and their families. So

Jimmy Tingle 11:15
what was that national that? Or was that just a local message

Deb Schmill 11:20
that was in Washington, DC, and they brought family members who have lost someone to overdose from all over the country, to the summit in Washington, DC, and we spent two days working on you know, just talking and listening and trying to figure out what is the best local approach, or actually approaches at every level, to, you know, prevention and prevention meeting preventing kids from starting to use drugs, but also building awareness about the Fentanyl crisis. And in reducing overdose,

Jimmy Tingle 12:03
and death, one of the reasons you went to California to Facebook as apparently she was able to buy drugs online.

Deb Schmill 12:11
Yes, that’s where she connected with drug dealers. And no matter where she was, we lived in Maine for a little while, just the two of us just to keep her away from her drug dealers. I didn’t realize she could still find anything she wanted, just with her phone. And in not just Facebook, it’s Snapchat, and Instagram. And so

Jimmy Tingle 12:37
on a personal level, how important is it for you still and Deb to to take action? And does that help with the healing process?

Stu Schmill 12:49
It does for us, I mean, I know everybody reacts differently to grief. And I think Deb and I both have in our minds, what we think Becca would want us to do. So we feel like we’re honoring her. I mean, she was someone who always tried to make the people she was with feel better. That was her thing. You know, when you were in her presence, you, you just felt better about yourself, and you just felt better about life when you were with her. And so we’re trying to honor that. And, you know, she’ll always be with us, and, you know, the work that we’re doing, we think she would, you know, she would have taken this on if she were here with us. And you know, every time we hear about another family that’s struggling, and if we’re able to help just one other family, not lose their child then I think all of this will be worth it. Because, you know, we know the pain of, of losing your child and not being able to, to hug her and kiss her and tell her that we love her. And we just don’t want that to happen to other families.

Jimmy Tingle 14:15
And, Deb, when you’re traveling out there to California with a group of other mothers, is this like a very bonding experience? I mean, it’s this is very, it must be or tell us about it. I mean, the tell us about the camaraderie and the friendships that are developed on in those type of efforts.

Deb Schmill 14:34
I mean, that that is one of the positive aspects of all of this. I mean, when you travel with people who’ve been through something that most other people cannot relate to. But But this core group, we understand each other. We know what we’ve been through it. Yeah, it is. It’s a very affirming, very rare I don’t know if that’s the right word. But a very empowering feeling that we’re together. And we’re doing this work and we and no matter where each of us comes from, because we’re from all different states with all different backgrounds, but we’ve come together. Because there is an issue here that we need to face and we want to save children’s lives.

Jimmy Tingle 15:23
Great. Well, the first what our listeners can do if the light to participate and help, the foundation is the Becca Schmell. Foundation is Becca Is that it?

Deb Schmill 15:37
It’s Becca Schmell, F, D N, or even Becca Schmell

Jimmy Tingle 15:45
That is Phil The link will be in the show notes of this broadcast. But on October 1, ladies and gentlemen, not only we’re going to turn grief into action, we’re going to actually enjoy ourselves as we try to go to another level and carry the message of recovery and taking action in a positive way. With the community at large. It’s all online, so you can stay home, you can join us again, I’ll be the emcee, we will have representatives from the various organizations that that funding is going to help. The research is going to help excuse me that the funds are going to help these organizations continue their research, taking positive action, and try to make make social change right here on the grassroots level in Massachusetts, that will hopefully have ramifications all over the country, eventually, so you can join us October 1. Again, the link is right in the chat to the Becca Schmell But you can also get tickets at Jimmy I will be your MC your auctioneer, a little entertainment. And we’ll have a lot of fun out these auction items and fund the need. And we just want to invite everybody to participate if you can, if the spirit moves you. And if you can’t, if you’re not available on October 1, you can just go to the Foundation website, you can make a donation or learn more about it and tell people tell people that you know who might be suffering yourself or somebody else, you have a friend or a relative who has a child that’s struggling or tragically passed away, or whatever the situation is, you’re not alone. And now it’s got to be one of the most redeeming experiences realizing that you’re not alone, would you? Would you agree, Stu and Deb on that? Absolutely.

Stu Schmill 17:33
It’s, I mean, sadly, we’re not alone, but it has helped. And fact it’s the only thing that helps us the support we’ve gotten from others so.

Jimmy Tingle 17:47
Well, great. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. If there’s anything else you’d like to tell folks how they can get involved, or whatever your parting words would be to the audience would would love to hear from you.

Stu Schmill 18:00
Thank you, Jimmy, appreciate the chance to share our story and get the word out about our foundation. And we hope people will recognize the seriousness of the issue in this country and come to the EXPO and support our work.

Deb Schmill 18:22
And most importantly, just at least learn about the workers learn about what’s happening to our kids right now. Because if if you’re not aware, you’re not going to be able to help them.

Jimmy Tingle 18:35
Right. And it’s not just the drugs. It’s the network that’s going along supporting this on social media and the internet. And it gets into big tech. So there were a lot of issues here that it’s not just drug use, but it’s the spreading of it, the proliferation of it online, and the lack of controls. And what we’re trying to do is set up some standards online. And we’re going through this as a country in the world on many, many different levels on many, many different issues. And this is one of the most critical. So thank you both for joining us today. Of course our deepest condolences. I will see you on October 1, but we’ll be in touch before then. But though the spelling of the organization is B E CC, a Becca Shamil SCHMI l foundation, I’m not going to try to spell that it’s okay because I’m not that great of a Schmell Two L’s Schmell C H M I L L. Becca Shamil foundation. Let me take a crack found a T IO N. Is that Okay, spelling wasn’t my big thing. Anyway, thank you both so much. God bless you and we’re in your corner and we’re going to talk Do as well as we can to make this just a wonderful advantage and just, you know, help where we can. So thanks, everybody for listening. Thank you and thank you folks and continued success and continued wonderful efforts on what you’re doing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for joining us today. This has been a humor for humanity production. Our mission is your mission, humor for humanity. Jimmy
Thank you

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