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Courtney's bench: Family and friends honor loved one lost in hope to raise awareness for mental illness

Austin Daily Herald - 6/8/2024

Jun. 8—Friday would have been Courtney Traynor Pogones' birthday, something her brother Kyle Traynor reflected on with a smile as the sun came out during a welcome to friends, family and loved ones for a special ceremony honoring his sister Friday night.

"It's always a beautiful day like this," he mused.

The reason for the ceremony was to honor Traynor Pogones' memory. She passed away just over two years ago in April of 2022 from her struggles related to mental illness.

On Friday night, a bench was dedicated in her name, and features a QR code that people can scan and donate money to Independent Management Services (IMS) in Austin where Traynor Pagones was seeking help.

Around 30 people showed up for the event outside of the YMCA at the Austin Community Recreation Center to remember a woman who touched all who knew her.

"It's wonderful. It's emotional. The whole day was emotional," Kyle said after the ceremony. "Just to know she's missed by so many people that meant so much to her. I love it."

Traynor Pagones battled with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia that combined with substance abuse.

While ultimately, Traynor Pogones would lose her battle after seven long years, family and friends Friday night used the opportunity to celebrate her life and remember a soul that battled to overcome the challenges she faced.

"When you love someone, you don't give up on them," Kyle said. "We remember who she is. She fought right to the end. Every moment (with her) was worth it."

Traynor Pogones was married to Tyler Pogones and together they had a daughter, Bella, who was front in center of a group picture taken at the end of the ceremony.

Tyler remembers his wife for her smile and thinks she would have loved having so many people together Friday night.

"It makes me feel happy," Tyler said. "A lot of people loved her. I think she would have really appreciated this."

The idea of the bench came not long after Traynor Pogones passed away, though there wasn't really a solid idea at the time of what that might be.

"After she died we wanted to do something," said Snow Pogones, Traynor Pogones' mother-in-law. "We weren't sure what it was going to be and then it took a long time."

Eventually, money was raised through a fundraiser and donations to purchase the bench, which the family decided on putting it outside of the Austin Community Recreation Center, a change from where it was originally thought to go alongside East Side Lake where Traynor Pogones liked to paint.

Fears that it might easily have been vandalized led the bench being located at the Austin Community Recreation Center, which the family thought made sense because of the YMCA's wellness programming.

"The Y does things with mental illness," Snow said. "It's kind of like spiritual, mental and physical health. I see it every day because I walk by here every time I go to class."

The QR code is affixed to the back of the bench, next to a picture of Traynor Pogones and Bella. Samantha Reimers, Adult Mental Health Case Manager and Lead Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services Practitioner at IMS, was also on hand Friday night.

She said afterwards that families willing to come together after tragedy to further help reduce the stigma of mental health, is a vital part of what IMS does at its core.

"It's so great to work with families to raise awareness," Reimers said. "Anytime you lose a client, you want to grow that awareness and spread the word."

Ultimately, those that were closest to Traynor Pogones want to raise that awareness so that others suffering from the same things can find the help they need.

"We're just hoping there's more awareness and we can start getting more help in this area," Snow said. "More and more people all the time are suffering with some kind of mental health."

Another QR is also being associated with the bench that will be connected to the Courtney 6789 Foundation. Funds there will be directed to research and support for those with bi-polar disorder.

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