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Screening of documentary of life of teen suicide victim set for July 20

JessicYore Waukegan whose suicide March 2011 inspired group
Illinois State University documentary students explore her life
its untimely end. | Submitted photo

Jessica Yore of Waukegan, whose suicide in March 2011 inspired a group of Illinois State University documentary students to explore her life and its untimely end. | Submitted photo

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Updated: September 16, 2013 2:42AM

She is described by family and friends as “very beautiful,” “a good friend” and “confident in everything she did.”

These testimonials to Jessica Yore are heard in “Yore Story,” a documentary being screened at Waukegan’s Jack Benny Center on Saturday, July 20, that details the effects of the 15-year-old Waukegan High School student’s suicide in March 2011.

The death of a girl also said to be “a very bubbly young lady” left Waukegan native Edward Polenzani among the many wondering what went wrong. And how the tragedy of suicide might be prevented from revisiting the families of teenagers.

“I had gone to grade school with Jessica’s older brother,” Polenzani said. “I’d known him since I was about in kindergarten, (and) he’s an old friend of the family. His mom is friends with my mom.

“When I first heard, it shocked me. It had been a long time since I saw her, and I just pictured this sweet little girl.”

In January 2013, Polenzani was a mass-media major at Illinois State University looking for a subject after signing up for a documentary production class. He recalled this week that he always thought Yore’s story was an important concept to explore in documentary fashion, “but I didn’t really know how to begin. I didn’t have the resources.”

He soon ran his idea by a team of fellow students that included Allison Hoss, Christa Shavers and Sal Marquez, and a five-month process of bringing “Yore Story” to the public was under way.

“It was the best story we could choose,” Marquez said. “It’s targeted at teenagers, especially, that have had thoughts about suicide for any reason.

“I think the main message would be that people in this life care about them, and they have someone who is going to miss them, so just taking their lives is not going to help anyone, including themselves. Just helping one teenager would be my goal.”

With Polenzani serving as producer/director, Marquez as an editor and Shavers behind the camera, the students traveled north for shots of images around Waukegan and interviews with Yore’s loved ones. Polenzani said the crew was treated to “full cooperation” from Yore’s relatives, who let it be known that they wanted her story told.

“I remember when we started the Facebook page about it, just all the posts we saw. It really amazed me — ‘thank you’ from her cousins or her uncle,” Polenzani said. “I knew all along we were doing this for a greater reason, but I think that’s when it really hit me. We were representing something that means a lot to a lot of people, and you have to take that subject with care.”

After being a featured trailer in April at ISU’s 8th annual Documentary Socio-Political Film Festival, the finished product is set for viewing in the Dr. Lynn Schornick Theatre at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Donations of $5 are being accepted to benefit the non-profit National Bullying Prevention Center sponsored by the Minneapolis-based PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights).

Both Marquez and Polenzani said they came away with lessons learned from the experience of telling Jessica’s story.

“You never know what’s going on in someone’s life, even if they look happy,” Marquez said. “Every picture she was in, she was smiling. So I think one (takeaway) would be don’t ever assume something about someone’s life. If you think someone’s having these types of thoughts, reach out to them, take them somewhere.”

“Someone in the movie says this — and I like it a lot, and it’s a big point we try to make — is it’s just a moment that you’re in,” Polenzani said about suicidal thoughts.

“Kids don’t realize how small, really, the world is when they’re in that stage of junior high and high school and they’re getting picked on.

“They’re so caught up in that one moment and they feel so miserable, but they don’t realize that there’s so much more out there — try to look past it, get through it, get some help. Life will be so much better.”

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