GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) – By the time Jeff Johnston rolled the “Living Undeterred Tour” bus into Greenville, he had already traveled thousands of miles across the country to raise awareness and money for mental health. The tour started in Johnston’s home state of Iowa after his personal journey of grief and despair.
In October 2016, Johnston’s 23-year-old son, Seth, died from an accidental heroin overdose after a struggle with drugs.
“I went straight downhill. I drank every day. I Invited every negative friend I had in my head for the biggest pity party in the world,” Johnston told FOX Carolina. “After 14 months, I decided I wanted to quit drinking. My life changed the moment I did that.”
Johnston’s wife took a different path. Prudence Johnston, 46, died in June 2021.
“She lost her fight with alcoholism due to the grief of losing a child,” Johnston said. “Death came into my life again as an opportunity to be a better person again.”
This time, Johnston focused on reaching out to others. He started the “Living Undeterred Tour” to meet with survivors of addiction and advocates for change. The tour stopped in Greenville on July 24, in part, due to a connection he formed with a local advocate, Steve Grant.
Grant lost both of his only children to accidental drug overdoses. Chris died in 2005 at the age of 21. Kelly was 24 when he died in 2010.
“I always say that they died ahead of their time,” Grant told FOX Carolina. “The only one I knew who died from a drug overdose in 2010 when Kelly died was his brother. When (Chris) died in 2005, I didn’t know anybody who died of a drug overdose. But today, you hear about it weekly.”
Grant started the Chris & Kelly HOPE Foundation to provide financial support to programs that help young people battling substance abuse addictions.
“We’ve done well and helped a lot of adolescents and young adults who need addiction referrals…and grassroots organizations that need help financially,” Grant said.
Grant also wrote a book, “Don’t Forget Me – A Lifeline of HOPE for Those Touched by Substance Abuse and Addiction.” A Wall Street Journal article about the book and Grant’s mission happened to catch Johnston’s attention.
“I sent him this long email at 3:00 in the morning, crying my heart out. He called me back. We’ve been friends ever since,” Johnston said. “I’m just grateful and honored to actually finally meet him.”
During the Greenville visit, Johnston also met Cathy Breazeale, founder of the MR Foundation in Pickens County, which focuses on ways to empower underserved residents in the community. She said Johnston has inspired her to do more to address mental health problems that can lead to addiction.
“(Johnston) has given me is even a better foundation – not just from the educational (standpoint)…but how I can do something as a person in the community,” Breazeale said. “Mental health is something we don’t always talk about. We look at it, as he said, a stigma.”
When the tour ends, Johnston said he will focus on creating a way to give people a customized mental health care plan that they can access via phone or computer.
“We have one for weight loss. We have one for finances. We have one for paying off our mortgage…but it seems like we don’t have one for mental health,” Johnston said. “I have no clue how this is going to work. I just know that this is what I’m meant to do.”
Johnston lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His two other sons, Ian and Roman, participate in his Living Undeterred Project. Johnston has also written a book, “This One’s for You – An Inspiring Journey Through Addiction, Death & Meaning.”
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