What Will Taylor lacked in height, he compensated for in quickness when he hit the basketball court. During his freshman and sophomore years at Mercer Island High School (MIHS), the small hoopster earned the nickname Scooty for rapidly moving his body up and down the hardwood.
He gained some inches on his frame come junior year, but the nickname stuck.
Taylor was tight with his older sister, Kasey, who remembers Will as having a magnetic, funny and energetic personality. He was a loyal person who cared about his friends. Mix in being bold and stubborn, and that was Scooty in a nutshell.
At the age of 21, just a few months before graduating from Santa Clara University in northern California, Will died by suicide on March 4, 2017.
A year after Will’s death, Kasey and two fellow MIHS alumni launched The Scooty Fund to honor his life and legacy. The fund’s mission is to “promote, support and advance mental health and wellness in ways that enhance the lives and well-being of young people,” according to its site, which features the tagline, “There’s a WILL and a WAY.”
Kasey, who graduated from MIHS in 2011 — two years before Will received his MIHS diploma — explained that she and the other fund founders have also struggled with mental health.
“After the intense grief and shock of his death kind of wore off, we decided to start a nonprofit because we were finding that kind of the ways that we had been taught mental health in school weren’t effective, and that we were seeing a stigma when so many of our friends and our peers were going through similar mental health struggles,” Kasey said.
The Scooty Fund is a space where they can educate and support their peers, promote connection and let people know that it’s OK to discuss mental health.
Kasey and her friends found through their experiences that people were resistant to discuss their mental health issues because they feared showing weakness or vulnerability and felt “like other people have their lives going perfectly or at least better than what we feel like we have,” she said.
The current Sun Valley, Idaho, resident is the logistics coordinator for an art gallery while working toward receiving her master’s degree in clinical psychology to become a therapist. The 2015 Pomona College (California) graduate said her current studies have mostly stemmed from her fulfilling experience with The Scooty Fund.
Through their fundraising efforts, they’ve donated money this year toward a University of Washington research project on what factors affect suicidality in people ages 12-26. In past years, they’ve donated funds to the Hirsch Youth Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles, Forefront in Mercer Island and Seattle and The Jed Foundation to further develop their mental health curriculum in Seattle area schools.
The Island connection continues through some Scooty Fund work with the city’s Youth and Family Services (YFS) department and a fundraising event with the MIHS boys basketball team the winter before the pandemic hit. They’re in discussions with MIHS to present a panel presentation for all students in the fall or winter of 2021.
The fund — which is developing an app and a podcast — consists of a seven-member board and about 20 volunteers, many of whom are MIHS graduates.
The Scooty crew is also strong on the social media front, which includes giving a different young adult the reins to share their mental health experiences on the fund’s Instagram page each Wednesday.
“We have monthly themes that typically correspond like grief, anxiety, relationship issues so that people can see mental health through a different lens each month,” Kasey said.
Added Tara Nielson, fund co-founder/vice president: “The Scooty Fund is normalizing mental health conversations in a unique and important way. By using our platform to start these conversations, we have seen our community become more open about their own mental health journeys.”
Nielson was so deeply moved by being involved with the fund that she began law school at Seattle University and has a career goal of federally mandating mental health education in all K-12 schools. When she helped launch the fund, she was a high school math teacher and now she’s entering her third year of law school.
Kasey noted that a key aspect to enrich people’s lives is making sure their days are filled with sufficient amounts of food, sleep and exercise. Two important things she’s learned over the years is acceptance and negating black and white thinking.
“As I’ve gotten older, learning to take time to rest and kind of accept life as it comes, knowing that I can’t control a lot of things. Not thinking in extreme (that) I either need to be the best or I’m terrible, or fit this ideal or I’m a failure,” she said.
The Scooty Fund panel presentations — which have featured YFS counselors — are crucial as well, and they consist of three to four young adults and two or three mental health experts with topics ranging from suicidality to anxiety to depression to eating disorders. They’ve also presented small group seminars for young women on Mercer Island and in Calabasas, California.
“I’ve led both of those groups and it’s an open forum to answer any questions about mental health. I share a little bit about my story and impart some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way. And it’s kind of a safe space,” Kasey said. “It’s actually been a huge part of my own healing, being able to feel like I’m helping other people.”
For more information, visit https://www.scootyfund.org.