‘Living Undeterred Tour’ leads a mental health mission across the Carolinas and the country

GREENVILLE, SC (FOX Carolina) – The moment Jeff Johnston launched the “Visit without being discouraged” Bus in Greenville, he had already traveled thousands of miles across the country to raise awareness and funds for mental health. The tour began in Johnston’s home state of Iowa after his personal journey of grief and despair.

In October 2016, Johnston’s 23-year-old son Seth died of an accidental heroin overdose after a struggle with drugs.

“I went straight down. I drank every day. I invited all the negative friends I had in mind for the biggest pity party in the world,” Johnston told FOX Carolina. “After 14 months I decided I wanted to quit drinking. My life changed the moment I did that.

Johnston’s wife took a different path. Prudence Johnston, 46, died in June 2021.

“She lost her battle with alcoholism because of grief over losing a child,” Johnston said. “Death came back into my life as an opportunity to become a better person again.”

This time, Johnston focused on connecting with others. He started the “Living Undeterred Tour” to meet addiction survivors and advocates for change. The tour stopped in Greenville on July 24, in part because of a bond he forged with a local attorney, Steve Grant.

Grant lost his two only children to an accidental drug overdose. Chris died in 2005 at the age of 21. Kelly was 24 when he died in 2010.

“I always say they died ahead of their time,” Grant told FOX Carolina. “The only one I know who died of a drug overdose in 2010 when Kelly died was his brother. When (Chris) died in 2005, I didn’t know anyone who died of a drug overdose. But today you hear about it every week.

Grant started the Chris & Kelly HOPE Foundation to provide financial support for programs that help youth struggling with substance abuse.

“We’ve done well and helped a lot of teens and young adults who need substance abuse counseling…and local organizations who need help financially,” Grant said.

Grant also wrote a book, “Forget Me Not – A lifeline of HOPE for those affected by substance abuse and addiction.” A Wall Street Journal article about Grant’s book and mission caught Johnston’s attention.

“I sent this long email to him at 3am, crying my heart out. He called me back. We’ve been friends ever since,” Johnston said. “I’m just grateful and honored to finally meet him.”

During the visit to Greenville, Johnston also met with Cathy Breazeale, founder of the MR Foundation in Pickens County, which focuses on ways to empower underserved residents in the community. She said Johnston inspired her to do more to address mental health issues that can lead to addiction.

“(Johnston) gave me a better foundation — not just educationally (from the point of view)…but how I can do something as a person in the community,” Breazeale said. “Mental health is something we don’t always talk about. We regard it, as he said, as a stigma.

At the end of the tour, Johnston said he would focus on creating a way to give people a personalized mental health care plan that they can access by phone or computer.

“We have one for weight loss. We have one for finance. We have one to pay off our mortgage…but it seems we don’t have one for sanity,” Johnston said. “I have no idea how it’s going to work. I just know that’s what I’m supposed to do.

Johnston lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His two other sons, Ian and Roman, are involved in his Living Undeterred Project. Johnston also wrote a book, “This one’s for you – An inspiring journey through addiction, death and meaning.”

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