Back in 2007, the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – or, Virginia Tech – experienced the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in the history of the United States: The Virginia Tech Massacre. The gunman, 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho, who’d been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, killed 32 people and injured 17 more before committing suicide.

No doubt you remember it.

Yet, from that devastation, a spark of hope was ignited.

“Touchdown Tommy” Edwards, a former Hokie football superstar, was visiting his parents in nearby Christiansburg, VA, when the massacre began. Like so many people across America, Edwards watched in horror as the death toll continued adding up.

When it stopped at 33, which is his old football jersey number, he was stunned –

– and ready to take action.

In response to the massacre, Edwards moved back to Virginia to launch The Heart of Virginia Foundation, a non-profit organization geared toward providing “charitable and educational opportunities to promote emotional well-being through the arts and to fight the stigma of mental illness.”

Edwards, who spent years battling his own mental health problems and substance abuse before receiving a proper bipolar disorder diagnosis, eventually found solace in art and music.

(Edwards, in the snazzy plaid, is pictured above right with Artimus Pyle.)

He and The Heart of Virginia Foundation aim to provide the same tools to others, especially with the help of related programs like The Ugly Truth, a motivational program for youths (and upcoming documentary), and Music 4 Mental Health, which is currently working with the Wounded Warrior Project to create the The Wounded Warrior American Heroes Tour and feature former band members from Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Greg Allman Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and more.

Most recently, the two programs united at Marion, VA’s Lincoln Theatre and with the help of partner Michael Corbin of, Nashville’s Cream of the Crop Spring Pickin’s 2011 winner and finalist, and a plethora of local partners like the Marion Police Department, the Mount Rogers Community Service Board, and the Thunder Country 103.5 radio station,

[…] presented in the afternoon to a predominantly youth audience, focused on emotional and mental health, using healthy forms of self-expression as outlets for stress. Wellness, Tommy explained, is about physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health (Flier: Tommy Edwards at Lincoln Theatre, August 4, 2011).

Want to learn more about the foundation, volunteer, or help out with a donation? Visit The Heart of Virginia Foundation online at

Image and Flier Credits: Tommy Edwards and Michael Corbin