Dover NH family raises awareness of teen suicide, honor Andre Schaeffer,
ROCHESTER — Models strutted the runway in a sold-out charity fashion show on Saturday night to raise money mental health and suicidal awareness.
It was a full house at the Rochester Performance and Arts Center with 140 tickets sold.
This was Fashvia and Andre’s Army’s first event to honor the late Andre Schaeffer and two other Dover Class of 2022 teenagers – Brian Schultz and Alex Leclerc – the died by suicide within three years.
Schaeffer’s mother, Tonya Ames, was one of the organizers of the event and walked the runway as a model.
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“The three deaths of these boys, including my son; it rocked our community,” Ames said. “I hope this is a way for people to see, let’s talk about it, that it’s okay to talk about it. This is the only way we can really make a difference. I’ve been told so many times “You’re so strong” or “I don’t know how you do it”. Honestly, I have to do it because I don’t want any other family, especially any other parent, to feel the way I feel since I lost Andre.
All proceeds from the fashion show’s ticket and raffle sales will be donated to Connor’s Climb, a New Hampshire-based foundation focused on suicide prevention and mental health education. The non-profit organization was named in memory of Connor Ball, a 14-year-old Exeter who committed suicide in 2011. Money raised will help fund Signs of Suicide training within the community.
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Ophelia Burnett was one of the opening performances, singing the song “Hero” by Mariah Carey. In addition to a representative from Connor’s Climb, two friends of Schaeffer spoke.
Among the 20 models who volunteered for the event were Schaeffer’s friends, family, members of his DHS senior class and the Maine Stars cheer team, along with a dozen designers, makeup artists and hairstylists.
Mason Soares was a close friend of Schaeffer. Since his friend’s death, Soares has worked hard to share Schaeffer’s story. He has been a guest speaker at schools, runs Andre’s Army Instagram, and has gained followers through advocacy for mental health and advocating for suicide awareness.
“I am delighted that so many people are honoring him and the cause,” said Soares. “I really want people to realize that depression and suicide can happen to anyone. It could be your younger brother or older sister, that friend you always see happy. You never know what someone is going through and what feelings they are hiding. It means a lot to me to keep sharing Andre’s story and helping others.”
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Simone Longguil, a Dover High School senior, had known Schaeffer since middle school. They were neighbors, classmates and teammates, both members of the Dover Varsity Cheer Team. She is currently a member of the Mental Health Initiative at Dover High School, which was formed after Schaeffer’s death last year. These students received training in mental health first aid from NAMI NH and are working to train other students and teachers at the school.
“Our senior class has been through so much, and with each of those three deaths, it’s never gotten easier to deal with,” Longguil said. “It was so difficult. We don’t want to lose any more classmates. The fact that these changes are happening in our schools shows that our work is making a big difference.”
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Denis Gagnon is one of the three organizers of the event. He photographed Schaeffer two days before his death, and as a family friend he was eager to support the family. The idea of doing a fashion show has been in the works for months since Schaeffer’s death last spring.
“This event means so much because it not only honors Andre and the other two young men from his class who have also died, but also recognizes the importance of raising awareness about suicide,” Gagnon said.
Ames said the event is designed to stimulate discussions about suicide awareness so the signs can be recognized earlier and people can be connected to the right help.
“People don’t want to talk about death, especially suicide, because it’s uncomfortable, right?” Amés said. “People need to know: It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to remain silent. If someone is having suicidal thoughts, I hope they can feel comfortable finding someone to talk to without being seen as attention seeking or written off, and it’s up to that person to tell someone who can help. Our children need to know that help is available and that they will not be locked up.”
Ames said it’s incredibly humbling to see so many volunteers and community members come out to support the cause.
“Andre has been so involved in different areas of the community, like coaching the Dover Little Green cheerleaders, that it’s amazing to see the outpouring of support for him. Andre was super serious and very engaging but he was also the biggest jerk. We pay homage to him tonight by saying let’s take this seriously, but let’s have some fun too.”