The Mendez family, who opened Jojo’s Grind in Central Mall after their daughter Evangelina took her life less than two years ago, lost their first daughter Takemi by suicide Monday, May 9.
Evangelina Mendez lived with bipolar disorder until November 21, 2020. May 9 would have been her 31st birthday.
Heather Mendez is the mother of Evangelina, Takemi, Mia and now adopted Elva Mendez, Takemi’s daughter.
She said the family had a lot of help from the community in launching Jojo’s Grind.
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Fort Smith Coffee Co., Sweet Bay Coffee Co., First National Bank, the Central Mall general manager, Scott McDonald, and others helped Jojo’s Grind open in 2021.
Heather Mendez wants to recognize Ketchen Padillia for making the coffee shop’s menu and Alayne Tobey for making the logo.
“When the kids were younger, they couldn’t say her name,” she said. “So they would stick with Angel, but when they couldn’t say Angel, Jojo came out, so it was Jojo.”
Mendez said that her family business allows her to bring her children to work, go to appointments and have a flexible schedule.
Takemi would have been 33 years old on May 11. She lived with schizophrenia affective disorder and multi-personality disorder.
She attended the New Activity Center where she participated in daily treatment with psychology professionals.
Her mother said Takemi loved arts and crafts, gift-giving, taking care of others and her sisters.
When Mendez’s children were going through mental health crises, Rudy Ledbetter, lead pricing and supply chain engineer at ArcBest, donated signs with a crisis hotline to text in an emergency.
The signs say “You Matter” and “Don’t Give Up.” Below, a message reads: “In crisis? Text “HOME” to 741741.”
The Crisis Text Line, a global nonprofit organization, provides free mental health texting services through confidential crisis intervention via SMS message. The organization’s services are available 24 hours a day in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“We didn’t know a lot about it until we had to go through it,” Heather Mendez said. “And we’ve been going through it for over 10 years.”
She said she is grateful that the Crisis Intervention Unit of the Fort Smith Police Department was formed.
The unit responds to calls of those in a mental health crisis and has extensive training to respond.
Takemi Mendez was a mother to two daughters, a sister, and an aunt.
Caitlyn Sisney, a former Hounds Tooth employee, wrote the obituary for Takemi Mendez.
Sisney also created a flyer with information about Takemi and the Mendez’s family business and legacy at the Central Mall. It’s available at Jojo’s Grind with a Cash App donation username for funeral donations.
“(Takemi) provided a great deal of love and so much kindness to the central mall community and everyone who came to know her,” she said. “Although she struggled with her mental illness and anxiety, she still came out as often as she could to see everyone at the mall and help her family with Jojo’s Grind.”
Sisney spoke about how this family business was more than a coffee shop to many community members.
“I believe when you leave this coffee shop after every visit that you have left with your must-have daily drink topped with words of wisdom,” she said. “I believe with every visit and purchase, you were asked about how your life is going.”
Heather Mendez said when Takemi first passed, the family took time away to “get stronger.”
She said her community at the Evangel Temple Assembly of God has supported the family in healing.
“We have people praying for us, so prayer and the body of Christ and all the help that we’ve gotten from everyone (has supported us),” she said.
Mendez and her daughter Mia said Takemi always put others before herself.
“She was very caring and giving, on holidays, she would buy stuff to hand out, not only to her kids and family members but people,” Heather Mendez said.
As Mental Health Awareness month comes to a close, one family wants to remind the Fort Smith community to check in with loved ones year-round.