Jared Zimmerman was different things to different people. To his younger brother, Gabe, he was a role model. To his father, Ken, he was a child who had an affinity for “bad Scandinavian movies,” and to his classmates he was a social butterfly. 

That all changed for Zimmerman when he turned 16. 

“For a couple of years, we could just not figure out what was going on,” his father said. “And he couldn't figure out what was going on. And even more, his friends in the greater school community could not figure out what was going on.”

When Jared was in his junior year of high school, he started to show signs of what the family now knows was schizophrenia. The vibrant young boy who was once on the cross-country team and active in the Civics and Government Institute at Montclair High School was battling mental illness while trying to juggle daily activities. 

“A kid who had been very gregarious, very successful in school, all of a sudden was isolated and confused and struggling in his social relationships and elsewhere,” Ken Zimmerman said. 

Jared Zimmerman spent days at a time in hospitals, where he hoped he would receive some form of relief. Despite his mental illness, he made his way to Bard College in 2015. At Bard, Gabe Zimmerman would visit his older brother just to soak in all the ways he admired him. 

“He was the smartest person I've ever met, to this day,” Gabe Zimmerman said. Though they would have their basic brother quarrels growing up, Gabe Zimmerman could always count on his older brother to make sure that he was good.

“Even when he was in the throes of his illness, he always treated me like a little brother, and always was protecting me and making sure I was doing OK, and celebrating my accomplishments and being there for me,” Gabe Zimmerman said. 

Jared Zimmerman did his best to overcome his mental illness, but at the age of 20, on April 15, 2016, he died as a result of his illness. 

He left behind his mother, Jackie Baillargeon, his father, Ken Zimmerman, and his siblings, Gabe Zimmerman and Brianna Zimmerman. 

“Jared was not only deeply loved, but deeply loving,” his father said. 

As a Montclair native, Jared Zimmerman attended Montclair Community Pre-K, Rand Elementary School, Renaissance Middle School and Montclair High School. Though his family loves Montclair, both Ken and Gabe Zimmerman say that the township, and many others, can do more to acknowledge mental illness.

“Our ignorance, the school's ignorance, the greater community's ignorance of what mental illness is, is something that needs to change.” Ken Zimmerman said.  “One is always afraid of something one's ignorant about, and this is an illness like any other, and so if we're educated about it, it can make all the difference in somebody's life and can make the difference between life and death as, unfortunately, we know.” 

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 75% of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by the age of 24. 

A few years after Jared Zimmerman’s death, his parents set out to honor their son in the best way they knew, by raising awareness. Jared’s Fund Youth Fellowship is a paid fellowship that funds four mental health projects or internships for current or recent alumni of Montclair High School. Individuals or small groups, up to three people, can develop a project of their own, challenging mental health stigma or working with a mental health-related nonprofit during the summer of 2023. 

It is critically important  for people to realize that mental illness is an illness like any other and that there are steps that the individual suffering with the illness and those around them can take to support them, Ken Zimmerman said. This was one of the driving factors around creating the fellowship.

“It's the ability to connect people who understand that they want to do something, but don't know how, with educational opportunities that motivates the fellowship,” he said. 

Not only are fellows funded for their projects, but the Jared’s Fund Youth Fellowship also has a mentoring program and speaker series for young people to engage with prominent figures in the mental health advocacy field. The fellowship was created in partnership with Montclair High School and the Community Foundation of New Jersey. 

Examples of past projects include a garden at the high school and a club that raises awareness for mental health called Jared’s Club, which was started by two students, Misty Avinger and Marley Pradieu. Another student, Izzy Lubin, partnered with a doctor for a research project on the stigma of mental health in communities of color. 

Now, the fellowship is accepting applicants for 2023. There is no grade requirement to participate, but students should be able to provide a letter of recommendation. 

With the fellowship in its fifth year, Gabe Zimmerman is in awe of Montclair youths for their passion surrounding mental illness. 

“At the end of the day, they teach me, even after all this, I'm still getting to know my own mental health and making sure that I'm OK,” he said. “Whenever I interact with the fellows and work with them, I really start to appreciate how young people have so much insight into these
issues. And if we want to start making change, we’ve got to start with the people in Montclair who are directly dealing with this stuff.” 

To apply for the 2023 Jared’s Fund Youth Fellowship, visit jaredsfund.com. The deadline is May 5. If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental illness, please call 988.