NEWARK — When Sean Locke was a student at the University of Delaware, his house at 136 W. Main St. in Newark was a popular gathering place for his many friends. Now, more than four years after his graduation from the university and two years after he took his own life, Sean’s House is ready to help other young people who may be dealing with depression, self-injury and suicidal thoughts.
Locke’s family, friends and others gathered at the house on Sept. 24 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It opens Oct. 1, offering round-the-clock support and resources for adolescents and young adults. His father, Chris Locke, recalled during the ceremony how the community came together to make this day a reality.
“This house has been built by all of you standing here,” he said.
Sean Locke, who was a graduate of Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, Md., and Saint Mark’s High School, died in July 2018, and shortly thereafter the SL24 UnLocke the Light Foundation was formed with the goal of preventing other families from experiencing this type of loss. Chris Locke said his son had a hard time showing emotions as a youngster and talked about how he wrote about his inability to find happiness.
“The disease of depression robs you of the ability to be happy,” Chris Locke said. “We want to stop this disease from taking other people from our community.”
The house, which is 100 years old, was redone over the past several months in preparation for the opening. There is a library, room to sit and talk, and a kitchen. A psychologist has been hired, and University of Delaware students will work as counselors through the house’s Peer 24 program, “which is a very critical component so peers can help each other,” Chris Locke said. There will be people living in the home for 24-hour support.
Sean’s sister, Kat Locke-Jones, said the community’s support was a testament to her younger brother’s ability to bring people together. She said local businesses volunteered to make sure the work got done, as did students and others. Many of them had no connection to Sean Locke, she said, but they all connected with his story.
“I think that’s the thing that makes Newark so great. You see a community coming together for a need that is urgent, especially in a time of covid,” she said.
In an interview after the ribbon had been cut, Chris Locke said there he felt a lot of different emotions.
“It’s a day that’s been born out of tragedy,” he said. “You’re never at peace when you’ve lost your son, and I’m not. But at least his legacy will be that he’s helping other people. Sean was all about helping other people.”
Two women who were longtime friends of Sean Locke said they had to be back in Newark for the ceremony. Allison Short and Emma Gray were classmates of his at both Saint Mark’s High School and the University of Delaware. Both said they were not strangers at 136 W. Main.
Gray said the interior looks very different from her college days, “but a lot nicer and for such an awesome cause. It brought people together in college, and now it’s going to do that even more so.”
Short said she could feel Locke’s spirit in the house. The first floor is adorned with photographs of him with his friends and of his time with the Blue Hens’ basketball team. She misses her friend but is happy that the house will continue to be a gathering space for young people.
“Sean was definitely the one who was always bringing everyone together, whether it was in this house or around campus. It will continue to bring young adults together,” she said.
That is the hope of the Locke family.
“Anybody can come in and get a cup of coffee, some chocolate chip cookies, and if they want to talk to somebody, great,” Chris Locke said.
Locke-Jones said the need for Sean’s House is evident. She said the UnLocke the Light Foundation receives messages often through Facebook or Instagram from parents who appreciate that a resource like this is available. But something else has impressed Locke-Jones even more.
“I think the thing is the most moving is the kids who are ready to volunteer to tell their stories and kids who are ready to get the support that they need as well,” she said. “This is clearly something that is needed. I’m just so proud of my family and so proud of the UnLocke the Light Foundation for seeing something and making it happen.”
All photos by Mike Lang.