RICHMOND, Va. (WFXR) — The former “Voice of the Virginia Tech Hokies” Jon Laaser and his wife Renee have made it their personal passion and mission to bring awareness to the important subject of mental health.

For Jon and Renee, mental health awareness has been a part of their lives. In September 2019, during Jon’s time as the “Voice of the Hokies,” his dad passed away, which opened his eyes even more and inspired him and his wife to do their part to help with mental health awareness.

They started to sell shirts with Jon’s signature call “Of Nothing But Clean Mountain Air” printed on the shirts. The proceeds benefited mental health awareness organizations.

“It wasn’t this light bulb that went on and it was, all of a sudden, we needed to do this. It was just our way of starting to look at things a little bit differently, and then the pandemic hits and that, as we’ve seen, has had so much damage inflicted on our society as a whole,” said Jon.

“We started selling the shirts, I was really surprised of the reaction that we got, and it started so many conversations with people that we just didn’t expect,” Renee said. “We thought people were buying the shirts just because they liked Jon’s touchdown call or because of Virginia Tech, and it really just started conversations that we didn’t expect from people we knew, from friends saying, ‘hey I’ve really struggled with this for a while.'”

With the couple’s mission growing to help more with mental health awareness, Jon decided to step away from the Virginia Tech mic last season. Joining his wife, they formed a non-profit titled Laaser’s Ladybug Society.

Jon and Renee say they chose the ladybug because they see it as a symbol of hope, luck, grace, optimism, and positivity, adding that people need hope as they deal with mental health. The couple also hopes the ladybug could be a symbol of mental health awareness, similar to the puzzle piece for autism awareness.

“The conversations that Renee and I had, so many people I think get bogged down and eventually completely stalled by what we call ‘first-step paralysis’ where we had no idea where we wanted to start, and the problem seemed so vast, and even the Clean Mountain Air initiative, at first, we were just donating to a national organization and we weren’t able to see this is actually making an impact, because it wasn’t, quite frankly. It was well intentioned, but the amount that we were donating wasn’t enough. We localized it to benefit the student athletes of Virginia Tech. Then we could really start to see it and realize that that was the avenue in which to go,” said Jon.

“We decided, maybe it’s time to go all in… Like I said, when he got furloughed, it kind of reminds you that work is work and what’s really important in life,” Renee explained. “It’s family, friends, health, wellness, so with kind of that focus being re-centered for us, it made the decision to go all in and we scratched the surface with the Clean Mountain Air shirts and then we got too into work in the season, so if we put all of our work and ambition into this, what more we can do?”

The Laaser’s Ladybug Society will be holding a pickleball tournament this weekend at the Chesterfield Technical Center in the Richmond area. You can learn more about the event by clicking here.