Nonprofit Live Like Sam makes some life-changing adjustments
Live Like Sam is going through changes, says founder Ron Jackenthal.
In February 2019, the nonprofit was officially launched in honor of Jackenthal’s son, Sam — an internationally ranked freeskier who died after a 2015 ski-training accident in Australia. With the rise in depression, anxiety, addiction and isolation due to COVID-19, the organization is expanding its mission to include a focus on mental wellness and fitness in youth communities.
“When we started, our focus to help kids develop a healthy sense of self-identity, character, purpose and connection to community was mostly through sports and camp scholarships,” Jackenthal said. “Over the past few months, we’ve put more focus on character development, including gratitude, kindness and empathy.”
The shift is part of Live Like Sam’s natural evolution, Jackenthal said. After receiving its nonprofit status, the organization sought to make an even bigger impact for youth as a whole rather than focusing strictly on the athletic community.
“It started with losing my child five years ago and deciding to build an organization that operated off and on for the first three years,” he said. “Then it led to me creating a foundation to help kids that I’m doing full time.”
Jackenthal, who works with various grief organizations across the country that support parents whose children have died, found that roughly 70% of the parents lost their children to suicide or accidental overdoses. And he was determined to find out why.
The more research Jackenthal did, the more he was convinced that many of today’s youth and young-adult population, ages 7 to 25, lacked a way to nurture a sense of self-worth.
Despite providing youth in the Park City community and beyond with more than $200,000 worth of scholarships created in partnership with local and nationally recognized organizations, Live Like Sam believes that more can be done to help youth become socially, emotionally and mentally fit for life.
“The thing that kept coming up was a lot of adults work on their fitness routine and health regiment, including diet, exercise, therapy and all sorts of things,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think these things exist for many of our youth, and there is so much pressure on them these days.”
The pressure, Jackenthal said, is exacerbated by social media.
“They look at their peers, and cannot really escape from comparing themselves with them,” he said. “That is why so many of our kids have under-developed relationships with themselves. I mean, if you were to ask them if they love themselves, they would say no and list all the things that they find wrong or broken within themselves.”
So, Jackenthal decided to use Live Like Sam to help combat anxiety, depression, isolation and addiction by promoting self-compassion and kindness.
“Seeing these kids hurt themselves or kill themselves is too much for me to bear, and I feel I can use Live Like Sam’s platform — living a life of passion, joy, character, quality and integration — as a launching pad to help promote healthy living for our youth,” he said. “We are working to build out evidence- and science-based tools that can give our youth, at age-appropriate levels, access to information and resources that explain why it’s important to develop a healthy sense of self-identity. It’s about the importance of developing character at an early age, because it helps shape the quality and values over the rest of their lives.”
Jackenthal is working with a number of researchers who are creating a new curriculum centered on self-identity, character, purpose and connection to community for Live Like Sam.
“Our goal is to publish a robust curriculum and tools that will be available to our youth,” he said. “We are currently looking at what the best delivery mechanisms may be, because we want to meet them where they live.”
Jackenthal believes the curriculum needs to be distributed through web-based applications.
“We’re looking at ways to deliver the mobile-based learning content to young learners in a fun, game-like, stimulating and engaging way,” he said.
Although Live Like Sam is adjusting to meet the needs of more people, its original idea of community, athletics, responsibility and education (C.A.R.E.), is still at the core of the nonprofit’s offerings, Jackenthal said.
“We’re not walking away from that, but we’re taking things up several notches,” he said. “We don’t care if a kid is athletic or not. We envision programming where parents will support their kids going through Live Like Sam education and training to essentially fall in love with themselves — not in a narcissistic way, but in a healthy way. I believe if you love something, you’re more apt to treat it with respect.”
While the organization was initially based in sport and athletics, it slowly became a movement towards spreading kindness and self-compassion.
This became especially true with the inaugural launch of Live Like Sam Day on Oct. 10, 2019. The online celebration, created in partnership with the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team, drew attention from the winter sports community and beyond.
During the 2020 celebration, the organization even attracted support from major figures such as actor Patrick Dempsey and Olympian Lindsay Vonn.
On that day, the nonprofit asks kids for two things: perform an act of self-compassion and perform an act of kindness to another. To further promote this mission, Live Like Sam even delivered more than 6,000 Live Like Sam bracelets to Park City School District students to help them celebrate the day.
“The idea is not so different from what you do when you need oxygen in an airplane,” Jackenthal said. “You put the mask on yourself first and then put one on someone else, because you really need to take care of yourself or you won’t be able to effectively take care of others.”
Jackenthal said the sports and camp scholarships will also remain as part of Live Like Sam’s offerings.
“We will expand the scholarships through increased funding from donors, and increased participation from our community partners,” he said.
Last year, Live Like Sam partnered with Woodward Park City, the local sports and action facility located near Pinebrook.
“Woodward runs sports and action camps, and, like us, they try to improve the quality of life and help people experience joy,” Jackenthal said. “We recently did a Latinx scholarship program that sent five kids from Summit and Wasatch counties to camp.”
The program was sponsored by the Solomon Fund, SOS and Bright Futures, who helped identify the children who would benefit from the camps, Jackenthal said.
“We had many applications come in, and we found the five that would benefit the most from the camps,” he said. “It was so great to be able to do that.”
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