Pizza place takes up mental health cause in Naperville teen's name
When Isaac Pedley was new to Naperville as a 13-year-old and having a difficult time transitioning from his former home in Michigan, a new pizza shop became, as his mom puts it, "his happy place."
Jennifer Pedley says Isaac immediately was welcomed at MOD Pizza and felt at home there until his unexpected death at age 15 in April 2017.
After Isaac took his own life, his mother reached out in thanks to the shop's manager and corporate leadership, praising them for making MOD so affirming, with workers who welcome each guest with a loud, "hello."
That outreach, in the form of a letter that MOD co-founder Ally Svenson found touching, resulted in a partnership between the pizza shop and the family that will bring $50,000 to a nonprofit group focused on teen and young adult mental health and launch the sale this summer of a pizza forged in Isaac's name.
"Being able to see that there's going to be an impact at this level is huge support for us," Isaac's father, Ken Pedley, said. "To know that that's going to have a ripple effect through the JED Foundation and across the country is incredible."
The Isaac pizza that goes on sale Tuesday at all 355 MOD Pizzas across the country isn't the pie Isaac himself would order when he would stop by after class at Naperville North High School with his older brother, Asher, or groups of friends.
Isaac's order was a typical teenage boy's pizza, his father said -- his own version of the meat lover's with pepperoni, bacon, chicken, beef and Canadian bacon swirled with barbecue sauce atop a base of crust, red sauce and cheese.
"It's actually good," his mother said. "It's just kind of a lot."
Isaac's full-out toppings matched his personality as an athletic and social teen, his mother said, someone who, despite his struggles adjusting to a new town and the pressures of high school life, did not show classic signs of risk. That's the sad part of Isaac's story, his family says: the shock of how it ended.
"I don't mean to be a wet blanket," his mother said, "but this could be your kid."
The Isaac pizza to be sold until the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September is a lighter style, with a garlic and olive oil sauce, ricotta cheese, red onion and roasted grape tomatoes topped with balsamic vinaigrette and basil.
Sales of what Svenson called MOD's first "impact pizza" will help the shop complete its $50,000 commitment to the JED Foundation, which works to protect emotional health and prevent intentional deaths among teens and young adults.
"We're taking a heartbreaking situation and trying to find the hope within it," Svenson said.
The pizza chain also is assisting the foundation by connecting its 7,500 employees, 70 percent of whom are in their teen or young adult years, to JED's resources so they can learn to help others and themselves.
"We want young people to understand you don't need to be an expert to just talk to your friend if they're having a problem," said Dr. Victor Schwartz, JED's chief medical officer. "Just being there with them and going to have a cup of coffee or something to eat is actually helpful."
MOD provided a venue for social connections during the last months of Isaac's life by being a hangout where for $5 or $10 he could buy a pizza and spend time with pals.
"We know that having positive connections to other people promotes mental health," Schwartz said. "It sounds like a simple thing, but it's really something that we don't have enough of these days."
Isaac's brother helps create positive connections with others by working as an employee at the downtown Naperville MOD. Asher Pedley, who aspires to a career as a youth pastor, said he tries to make a personal connection with at least one young customer during each shift, using the offer of a free milkshake to make someone feel special.
Allowing Isaac's story to go public across the nation is another way his brother and parents are helping his life create a legacy.
"It's not just about Isaac. I'm confident he's already helped," his mother said. "You just have to have faith that it's happening."
• If you or a loved one are in crisis, visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.