by Noor Hindi

Jaclyn Wright describes her best friend Garrett Janos as “quick to laugh” and “charming, yet so sarcastic.” He was the type of person who always had a funny story to tell and loved listening to music and playing drums for multiple bands.

Garrett died by suicide in 2015. His death inspired Jaclyn and a community of friends to create Last Letter Project to honor Garrett’s love of music and help fight against mental illness and addiction. Through the help of local organizations like Project DAWN and Portage Path Behavioral Health, Jaclyn has been able to help hundreds of people be in community with one another as they cope with mental health challenges and addiction.

“A lot of people who struggle with mental health are grasping at straws looking for anything. And I think that substance abuse can oftentimes go hand in hand with mental health,” she says. “We’re all struggling one way or another.”

Before Garrett’s death, he left behind a series of letters to his friends, which inspired the name of the organization. The first event Jaclyn and friends created was Speedbump Fest, a memorial show for Garrett featuring local and national musicians, as well as resources for anyone struggling.

“My vision for Speedbump Fest is really trying to make those services and these topics available in not-so-scary environments,” Jaclyn says. “Not in an office, but starting to talk about it when you’re at a show, and making it more comfortable.”

The 5th annual Speedbump Fest is Oct. 5 and will feature Hiraeth, a local Akron band; Forced Happiness, a Wadsworth punk band; and musicians from Pittsburgh, Detroit and Toledo.

Before Speedbump Fest, Last Letter Project will partner with Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) on Sept. 17 for Help Fight the Opioid Crisis at the Hive Mind, where attendees can learn to do rescue breathing and recognize symptoms of overdose. Free naloxone and fentanyl test strips will be available.

Throughout the year, Last Letter Project holds a series of events called Timeout Tuesdays, which focus on creating space for people to talk about mental health while participating in a fun activity, like hiking and making ornaments. 

To learn more about Last Letter Project, and hear about other events, find them on Facebook facebook.com/thellp

Help Fight the Opioid Crisis is on Tuesday, September 17 at Hive Mind on 375 W Exchange St. Free.

Speedbump Fest IV is on Saturday, October 5 at Musica on 51 E Market St. $10 in advance. $12 at the door.  

Photos of Garrett Janos by Last Letter Project. Photo of Speedbump Fest by Kyle Langford. Both used with permission. 

Noor Hindi is The Devil Strip’s Senior Reporter. Email her at noor@thedevilstrip.com.

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