By Riley Morningstar
CENTRAL — For one local family, July 8 is an annual reminder of heartbreak and pain.
It’s the date Linda Josephine Ornelas-Grant, the mother of Daniel High School rising senior Zach Grant, committed suicide in 2004 after struggling with bipolar disorder.
For the last three years, Grant has memorialized his mother’s death through video production tributes, but a new idea struck him about three weeks ago.
Grant, who works with Clemson University Video, and a group of volunteers will help various local community organizations in pockets of Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties.
Though today will still have feelings of sadness, Grant said today’s work will inject joy in helping those who need it through his “July 8th Project.”
“Death and grief can breed some of the most beautiful emotions out of people,” he told The Journal. “Grief can sometimes bring something beautiful out of people, and I wanted to use my grief that I have on that day — usually it’s a day I’m sad and crying a lot — and I wanted to use that sadness and energy and emotion and turn it into something positive.”
Grant credits Clemson University business management chair Craig Wallace and his family for helping organize the event. Grant said he’s talked with at least 30 various community organizations in recent days to nail down details of the plan.
“I put a video out asking for an open request line. Thankfully, I’ve been gifted to be around a lot of influential people and I was hoping something would come of that, and it did,” he said. “It kind of exploded. The problem I had was that it exploded and so many people in the community wanted to volunteer and not enough people in need.”
Some 70 people have reached out to Grant offering help to from Meals on Wheels in Anderson to Our Daily Bread in Seneca. Letters will be penned to send to Clemson Downs residents who might be feeling lonely.
Some locations have restrictions on visitors because of the coronavirus, according to Grant.
“It’s a really odd time with this pandemic, so trying to reach out for community work has been difficult,” he said. “I wanted to do some work at the Tribble Center in Seneca, but that’s closed down for DHEC regulations, so I had a lot of that stuff.”
Through today’s planned work, Grant will be able to produce footage about the outreach.
He credited Halie Conn, the wife of Clemson football safeties coach Mickey Conn, for buying his first camera for his Clemson job. The same piece of gear will be used to capture today’s volunteer work.
In just 10 minutes, Grant said $175 was donated to the project, which will be sent to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“The community has been incredible in what they’ve given,” Grant said.
Cherishing what’s next
After his mother’s death in Los Angeles years ago, Zach and his father, Jeff, moved back to Seneca to be closer to family.
Through years of growth and learning from his father’s work as a chaplain at a local hospice home, Grant plans to make every day of life count.
“A close relationship with death can show you how quickly life can end and any day could be your last,” he said. “I want to be able to make my days as valuable as possible. There’s nothing more valuable than impacting your community.
“There’s nothing more valuable I can do than helping others.”
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