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Dawn York

Dawn York

Founder, President

My degree is in Teacher Education. However, most of my career has been spent as a Business Analyst and Application Systems Analyst in the healthcare field, working for United Healthcare and Johns Hopkins Healthcare.

In my high school years, I lost 4 classmates to suicide, one of which was a close family friend. As a result, I learned as much as I could about the signs of suicide and how to help others, as well as myself, to battle the lies of suicide. The lies that our brains tell us – that we’re alone, we’re a burden, I’ll never recover from this pain… the list goes on. I used these skills to educate my children, to help them help themselves and others. And I was able to help Josh when he reached out during his freshman year at college. I found him a counselor he liked and we continued to talk as he worked through his issues.

Fast forward almost two years and he was showing no signs of suicidal tendencies. Zero. I didn’t even know he needed help. He told his father and me, just weeks before his death, that he was happy and had no regrets. He appreciated everything we did to give him a great childhood. It was one of those days where I felt life just couldn’t get any better. All of my kids were happy. My husband and I were beyond happy. I can’t help but wonder if that, in itself, was a flag I missed because I was blinded by my own happiness.

I am a daughter, sister, cousin, aunt, friend, wife, and mother – stepmother, adoptive mother, and biological mother… one who will feel the loss of a child for the rest of my life. Losing Josh has altered my identity permanently, just like loving him did. And I will use that love to strengthen the lives of others…

William A York III, CPA

William A York III, CPA

Founder, Secretary/Treasurer, Lieutenant Colonel, US Air Force (retired)

In military terms, I’m known as a “Maverick,” meaning I began my career as enlisted and finished as an officer. Six years of my enlisted service were spent investigating major crimes committed by and against USAF personnel. During that time, I investigated many violet acts, including child physical and sexual abuse, rape, murder, and suicide. As a commissioned officer responsible for those in my command, my experience with suicide continued to grow. I was able to help save lives by recognizing signs and ensuring they received mental health assessments and the help they needed. In another instance, I was able to help the surviving family through determination of benefit eligibility. These experiences had an emotional impact, but did not prepare me for the loss of my son to suicide on July 28, 2018.

Joshua is the second born of my five children. He was and forever will be 20 years old, a Dean’s List college student ready to begin his junior year. Amidst the grief of losing my son, I searched for meaning in life. Through conversations with his friends and partner, I came to know my son on a much deeper level. I realized how many lives he’d touched in positive ways. And I wanted to do something to honor his memory and reflect the positive changes in me that are a result of this tragedy. My life’s mission became clear – to do all that is possible to prevent others from experiencing the grief associated with suicide. One month after our loss, the Joshua York Legacy Foundation was established to raise suicide awareness and prevention through education, outreach, and improving mental health accessibility for all AT-RISK populations, including (but not limited by) LGBTQ, students, and veterans. Every life lost to suicide is one too many.

Josh Chretien

Josh Chretien

Founder, VP & Director of Communications

I grew up in a household that we were always motivated to compete, in one way or another. From sports to getting good grades, our parents always pushed us to be the best that we could be. That led me to joining the Marines, where I had the pleasure of serving all over the US and abroad. From a videographer to a Marine Security Guard and then a Curriculum Developer, I had quite the experience while in the Marines and it was a time that molded me into the person I am today.

Back in November of 2016, I had the pleasure of meeting Josh York while I was out with some friends in the nation’s capital. That day would forever change my life and teach me what true love really was. Josh and I would constantly spend as much time as possible in each other’s presence just admiring each other and the drive that we seemed to motivate each other to. From trips up and down the east coast becoming his “sea husband” to the late nights sitting on the balcony and just chatting about life and all the aspirations we had for our futures together, we were a match made in heaven like what you read in fairy tales. He was my rock, my motivator to be the absolute best that even I didn’t know I could be, but he did. He gave me the motivation to buy my first property and furthermore register my business and finally make it a “real thing”.

You see, Josh was the most compassionate, motivated, and selfless person that I have ever known. Since losing him, I can’t say that life has been easy; it’s been quite the opposite. I’ve found myself fighting to push on and continue the path we had set for ourselves and a future of success, and all the while, in his name I will carry on a legacy to help others.

We will fight the fight. We will make a difference. It will be the name of my loving late partner, Joshua William York.

 

His Story

At the start of his senior in high school, Josh was struggling with being gay, not wanting his parents to know, and making connections with others like himself. He had many friends, but still felt isolated. After connecting with someone on a dating app, he was raped on their first meeting. He did not want to press charges as he wanted to focus on his senior year and getting into the college. We honored his wishes.

He was also having issues with body image and had corrective chest surgery in the spring of his senior year. Unfortunately, he was not happy with the results and continued to have self-image issues.

We talked a lot about therapy, but he did not want to talk to anyone, so we didn’t force him. We did, however, reach out to a family friend, a member of the LGBT community, who was able to help him in ways that we could not. He became more confident and seemed more accepting of himself. He was also able to meet and connect with other LGBT individuals and gain a sense of community and belonging.

In August, 2016 he went off to college at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA. By the end of September, he was having suicidal thoughts and went to a counselor on campus. Per school policy, he was taken by ambulance to the ER in town and the counselor called to inform us of his status. He was feeling isolated, homesick, and continued to have body image and self-worth issues.

After considerable research, we found a qualified therapist, but it was a 22 minute drive each way. Like many colleges, JMU freshman are not permitted to have a car on campus, so he had to coordinate and pay for transportation as well. In addition to his class load, he now had the stress of keeping up with therapy appointments as well as trying to get us the right information so we could coordinate with the health insurance company to help pay the bills.

Late in his first semester, he met the love of his life and introduced him to us. They went on spring break and spent as much time together as they could with one living in DC and the other in Harrisonburg. Josh continued with therapy and even wrote a paper on rape. He was able to share his experiences with his classmates and help others through encouragement and support.

That summer, Josh moved in with his partner and still spent lots of time visiting and vacationing with family and friends. He also found time for self-improvement and earned his Real Estate License at the age of 19. He was thriving in every way.

For his sophomore year (2017-2018), Josh transferred to University of Maryland College Park and finished on the Dean’s List. At the end of that school year, his partner bought a house and they moved a little closer to campus (and family). They were both so excited and happy. Life seemed perfect.

We had a Fourth of July party at our house that summer (2018), where he told us how happy he was, that he had no regrets, that he appreciated us as parents for all we had done to give him a happy childhood. He was feeling accomplished and happy; he was closing on his first house within the next week.

On July 28, 2018, just three weeks later, he took his own life. Something must have triggered his memory of the rape, because he’d been talking about it earlier that day. This is not uncommon in survivors of sexual assault. Unfortunately, whatever he was thinking or feeling at the time is forever unknown and we are no longer able to help Josh.

However, we can help people like Josh and we are doing so through The Joshua York Legacy Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization we started in August 2018, just one month after losing him to suicide. Our organization is dedicated to suicide prevention through outreach, education, and improving mental healthcare accessibility.

Josh was even more loved than we had known; the funeral procession was over a mile long. We knew he had a winning personality and was as fun as he was intelligent, but we didn’t know how deeply he had touched so many lives through his kindness and compassion. And he was truly loved and supported by his partner. Knowing that – that he loved and was loved, truly and deeply – helps to provide some comfort to our memories.

The Joshua York Legacy Foundation is a Maryland 501(c)(3) non-profit and all donations are tax deductible. Our EIN is 83-1608612 and our IRS confirmation letter can be requested by email to [email protected] To learn more about The Joshua York Legacy Foundation’s mission, programs, and community involvement, please visit joshuayorkfoundation.org.