When Jersey City teenager Hunter Reinholt died tragically at 15 after an accidental overdose in 2019, his mom Tracy decided to take action.
She gathered his group of friends to figure out how to honor his legacy.
“Everyone was focused on how he lived,” she said. “We decided to start something that focused on that, because it was more uplifting and positive.”
#HuntersWorld was borne out of discussions between Reinholt, 49, and Hunter’s group of friends. They aspired to be the kind of true friend he was, in spite of his personal mental health struggles.
“We kind of figured out what we would have wanted for ourselves,” said Hunter’s friend Gabriela Lamega. “Hunter was really that friend. We wanted to be that friend for a lot of other teens that could be dealing with something similar.”
The organization hosts weekly meetings throughout the school year between a group of 30 local teens to discuss mental health. They also work to mentor teens to be peer leaders through an eight week program, where they receive training on topics ranging from mental health issues to discrimination. The peer mentors also facilitate the teen meetings during their eight-week training.
Providing a Break from Reality
#HuntersWorld commenced in January 2020, two months before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We found ourselves in a really unique situation, the timing seemed really terrible,” said Reinholt. “In the end, it seemed almost perfect, because we had just launched.”
After three months of shutting down, #HuntersWorld held socially distanced meetings outside to give teens a break from their virtual reality.
“I could see such a great release in them getting out of the house and being together again,” said Reinholt.
Teens Gabriela Lamega, 18, and Habeeb Chiradechachan, 19, shared what the program gave them during the pandemic.
“It was such a big relief, being able to go outside,” said Chiradechachan. “Obviously, being inside all the time is not healthy.”
Although she liked being at home all the time, Lamega knew that isolating herself could take its toll on her.
“If it wasn’t for #HuntersWorld bringing me out of my shell, I probably would have ended up with several more months in my house,” she said. “It can become unhealthy, both physically and mentally.”
At first, it was hard for the teens to open up.
“It takes practice, because when they first start meeting together, they do not open up to each other,” said Reinholt. “They talk silliness, TV and whatever. They do not get into what they are feeling until more of a bond is made.”
Once they opened up, the meetings provided a way for the teens to break from the pressures of pandemic life.
“I think [the meeting] allows them a minute to decompress, to be honest, to be real to talk about what is going on,” she said.
Now as students at Rutgers University and NJCU, respectively, Lamega and Chiradechachan take the social and emotional skills they learned in the group meetings with them.
“I ended up being able to really open up and talk to different people because of it,” said Chiradechachan.
“I think it took a lot of understanding, patience and empathizing with one another,” said Lamega.