Mother aims to help area veterans through son’s passion
By Ben Rodgers
GREEN BAY – From the depths of heartache to the seeds of hope, one Fox Valley woman is keeping her son’s mission alive, even though he is no longer on this earth.
Cindy Otto, Neenah, started Tylor’s S.O.U.L or Seeds Of Unconditional Love, shortly after her son passed away in October 2017.
Now she wants to use her group to benefit those less fortunate in Green Bay.
“My son started struggling with anxiety primarily, which turned into panic disorder, depression and PTSD at a very young age,” Otto said. “It started with some trauma, but it really carried throughout his life and being a guy he didn’t want to talk it about it so much. On the outside no one in the world would have a clue he was struggling.”
She said Tylor was like any other teenager, a good athlete and involved in activities and school events, but under the surface he was depressed.
“He felt like he had to be strong and he felt like he deserved what he had, which is really sad,” Otto said. “A lot of people feel that way. They feel they’re not worthy and the pain they go through belongs to themselves.”
But Tylor did find joy in simple things like nature, spending time with the family dog, Lucy, and with his grandfather, Tom.
He graduated from Fox Valley Technical College with a degree in horticulture, greenhouse propagation and landscaping.
Tylor even spent time in Ecuador teaching sustainable agriculture practices and building gardens.
His joy was to provide a meal for his mom with fresh vegetables he grew himself, or teaching people how to provide for themselves.
“He loved cutting-edge things like hydroponics, aquaponics, and built the things himself and grew vegetables year-round,” Otto said.
Then in 2017, when Tom passed away, shortly followed by Lucy, Otto knew her son was in trouble.
“I knew we kind of lost Tylor the day we lost my dad,” Otto said. “I saw a tremendous change in him. I sought help in trying to help him. Tylor had voluntarily in life checked himself into hospitals. He was never afraid to share his diagnosis, he was never afraid to go to a hospital for help. He was afraid of the reaction from people when he told them.”
Her advice to anyone dealing with a loved one with mental health issues is to stay strong.
“Be an advocate for that person and be by their side and help them find the right resources, because there out there,” she said. “It takes a lot of legwork, it takes a lot of patience, it takes a lot of sacrifice. But don’t give up, stand by their side in the storm because it can get better, but it will always be there.”
Before Tylor passed away, he told his mom that through his death, seven people could live through his donated organs.
When the end was close, the doctor came in and told her the same – he can save seven people’s lives.
“I thought that was unbelievable, and my son had always been someone I looked up to and had great respect for, but at that moment he became my hero,” Otto said.
Otto would not go into further specifics of her son’s death, but instead chose to focus on what he cared about.
“Just being out in nature was truly healing for him and he wanted others to know always how much of an important resource nature is,” Otto said. “Being outside, growing things, the healing properties of that were super important for him.”
That’s where Tylor’s S.O.U.L comes in.
Otto wants to promote the therapeutic power of nature for those struggling with mental illness.
She has teamed up with the Center for Veterans Issues in Green Bay, which runs Green Bay Veteran Manor.
The nonprofit group operates apartments for veterans on Green Bay’s east side, many of whom are dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems.
They would be homeless if not for the apartment building.
“The goal is to be able to come together and act socially and have a good time, so they know that they’re not alone or anything,” said Theresa Williams, activity housing outreach coordinator for the group. “We are a community here.”
Otto wants to provide a hydroponics growing system to the manor so the veterans can produce healthy food year-round, learn a new skill, and hopefully find some peace and balance in their lives.
“What a blessing,” Williams said. “We were so happy that Cindy was able to come in and meet with us. Cindy’s story is very touching about her son Tylor.”
Otto, who keeps some of her son’s ashes in a necklace around her neck, said she is just doing the work of someone else.
“This is not me,” she said. “I’m just telling somebody else’s story. It is not me.”
Those who wish to donate to the project, as well as a therapeutic garden at ThedaCare in Neenah, can stop in at any Community First Credit Union and ask to donate to Tylor’s SOUL.