Shortly after he was hired by The Zone @ 91-3, radio personality Jon Williams went looking for a sign-off to close out his on-air shifts.
Flippant or ironic wouldn’t do. Williams, 32, wanted his sign-off to mean something, if only to himself. “No one knew of the mental-health struggles I’d had growing up, so I selfishly thought of something that would remind me of a few steps to look after myself,” he said.
He went with: “Look after yourself, have fun, and for goodness sake, smile.”
Nine years later, the saying has made it onto a limited run of T-shirts and hoodies being sold to benefit Foundry Victoria, an integrated wellness hub for those between the ages of 12 and 24. On Tuesday, Williams presented Foundry Victoria with a cheque for $10,000.
“We all follow Jon on social media, so we knew it was happening, but I don’t think anybody anticipated T-shirt sales would amount to $10,000,” said Melanie Winter, operations manager for Foundry Victoria. “But there’s obviously enough people out there who care and support mental health. It was a very humbling feeling.”
Williams announced eight months ago he would be printing a run of charity T-shirts and hoodies bearing his sign-off, with the profits to benefit Foundry Victoria. In order to gauge interest in his idea, Williams took pre-orders. The response was immediate.
He has now sold 700 $25 T-shirts and $100 hoodies, and plans to order another run next year. He has already taken orders from listeners in India, France, Germany, Hong Kong and Japan.
“It has become more than I ever thought it would be,” Williams said.
“I know The Zone is a successful station and I’m lucky to have people know what I do, but I honestly didn’t think that many people would want to get involved in it.”
The money will be used by Foundry Victoria for outreach and peer support, Winter said. Williams specifically asked that a portion of the funds go to programs for children ages 11 to 14, due to a traumatic experience he had around the same age.
Pedophiles were operating in the area of his elementary school in southwest England when he was 10, and Williams eventually became their target.
He was sexually abused during a particularly horrific incident, and was nearly drowned. It took him years to come to grips with the impact the abuse had on his daily life, and he currently lives with bipolar disorder that he attributes to the experience.
His T-shirt project has been a part of a healing process, Williams said.
“I know the word ‘smile’ can be a grating word for some people, and will flare up anxiety for others.
“For years, I had people saying: ‘Come on Jonathan, why aren’t you smiling?’ It used to be an anxiety builder. But I have made myself more accountable by opening up and sharing these stories with my colleagues, with radio listeners, with anyone who is willing to listen. The more context we can put around ourselves, the better.”