Mental health is not about laughing. Especially when it comes to the well-being of children.
But if being funny on stage in front of a few hundred people will help raise money for an Orange County nonprofit dedicated to improving the mental health and emotional well-being of children, then Fritz Coleman is in full swing. As a parent with a son who suffers from mental illness and addiction, the former meteorologist knows firsthand how crucial this is.
A well-known Southern California figure, Coleman retired last year from his post as chief weather reporter at KNBC-TV, ending a nearly 40-year career defined by wise demeanor worthy of someone. ‘one that started out as a stand-up comic. before a career change.
Coleman, 73, left the TV weather business to spend more time with his family and pursue a passion for fundraising on behalf of charitable causes through speaking engagements and a comedy act he did never really gave up, doing shows at The Improv during his television career.
Coleman’s name was mentioned some time ago to Mara James, founder of the Extraordinary Lives Foundation, as someone who could be a great headliner for the Comedy Night gala which will be held on Wednesday, October 20 to benefit of his Orange County-based organization, which focuses on mental health.
It wasn’t until she spoke to Coleman on the phone that James, a mother of three young adults, realized how perfect Coleman would be. They share a desire to improve the lives of children struggling with mental, behavioral and emotional health issues.
Because they lived it. They know other parents are going through this too.
âIt’s just something all families have trouble with in one way or another,â Coleman said.
Coleman, like James, has three grown children – 34, 32, and 21. He lives with his wife, a nurse, in Toluca Lake, and also has two grandchildren.
Both his father and grandfather were alcoholics. This decided Coleman not to touch another glass after a last glass of wine in March 1984, as he wanted to have a better relationship with his children and give them “the gift of sobriety.” But her eldest son, whose name Coleman was unwilling to be disclosed in order to protect his privacy, had a difficult life, complicated by depression and drug addiction.
Her son began to fail as a student at the end of middle school and at the start of high school. He was then diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. The Colemans transferred him to a school for children with special educational needs; he did better academically.
Coleman’s son had always been hypersensitive to any sort of emotional pain, but they attributed that to his artistic nature. What they didn’t know was that he was also suffering from depression. As a teenager he began to self-medicate, starting with alcohol at 16, then weed, then opiates. Now addicted to heroin, he has been to rehab five times.
At one point, her son was missing for about three months. Coleman hired a detective who found him living in a homeless camp in Tujunga Wash. He was persuaded to go to a drug rehab center in Denver, where Coleman said his son had been sober for six months before the facility was shut down for insurance fraud – a pervasive issue with the drug industry. addiction treatment documented in the Southern California News Group’s “Rehab Riviera” series.
Now the only way the Colemans will know their son is alive is to randomly text them.
âWe know he’s still using it,â Coleman said. “But we don’t think he’s using as much as he used to.”
Coleman said he had learned over the years not to blame himself: âIt was his depression that drove him to self-medicate and self-medication led to addiction. I understand it now.
But he hopes to help other parents become more aware of the mental health issues children may face and have the courage and resources to tackle them. This is where he sees the value in supporting James and the Extraordinary Lives Foundation.
âWhat really excites me is Mara’s passion and the passion of the people who work with this organization. I am happy to help them.
James, 55, said the roots of his advocacy stem from a manic episode that led to his diagnosis of bipolar disorder seven years ago and the challenges his children faced. One of her sons has autism and also suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; her daughter was diagnosed at a young age with Grave’s disease, an immune system disorder.
Medication helped with her bipolar disorder. But she said she had also undergone a spiritual transformation that led to the development of a children’s book character, Piggie Bear, to help young people deal with their emotions. She founded the Extraordinary Lives Foundation in 2015.
Her focus on helping children grew out of confronting her own painful childhood in Long Island, NY: âMost or all of my healing was with my inner child. “
(Her three children, 20, 22 and 26, are doing well these days, she said.)
James originally self-published “The Power of Piggie Bear” in English and Spanish, with illustrations by Matthew Mew. The book is intended for children aged 3 to 7. Now Brown Books Publishing is managing the “Piggie Bear” publication and is planning a second book.
Here’s the thing about Piggie Bear: She has a pig face on the body of a teddy bear. James wants the kids to know that there is nothing wrong with this: âIt doesn’t matter if Piggie Bear is a pig or a bear, it’s perfect like that. Just like the children. “
In addition to messages of self-acceptance and self-love, Piggie Bear’s goal is to help children develop emotional intelligence to identify what they are feeling and learn to calm down, through techniques such as hugs and deep belly breathing that James learned. through yoga.
James is a strong supporter of holistic healing as an adjunct to more traditional mental health treatment, and earlier this year she launched the Hugs for Life Virtual Healing Center as a way to “bridge the gap” between Western medicine. and holistic practices.
But Piggie Bear is its main service for helping children. She reads in schools and other places, including a homeless shelter in Los Angeles. So far, the Extraordinary Lives Foundation has donated over 3,000 Piggie Bear books and other child-friendly mental health tools including a Piggie Bear plush toy made by Build-A-Bear, Piggie Bear coloring book and Piggie Bear power cards.
The Comedy Night’s fundraiser and gala, which also features the Frances Dilorenzo and Karen Rontowski comics, will help James continue to donate Piggie Bear educational tools to schools and other places that have included domestic violence shelters, children’s hospitals and youth organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs.
James is excited about the evening to come.
âWhat better way to talk about mental health than with comedy or laughter? You can laugh or cry.
Find out more
Information on the Comedy Night Gala and the Extraordinary Lives Foundation can be found at elfempowers.org.