- Associated Press - Saturday, October 15, 2016

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (AP) - A grassroots effort launched by two moms in the Rock Island-Milan School District has resulted in suicide awareness programming for all grade levels, community outreach, and a successful fundraising campaign that will pave the way for future initiatives.

Inga Harty of Rock Island approached the school board in April 2016 with her concerns that not enough was being done in the wake of recent youth suicides in the Rock Island community.

Through the efforts of Ms. Harty and fellow parent Marji Boeye, of Milan, a suicide awareness campaign is in progress. The pair said district administrators, counselors and students, as well as the community supported the effort.

Spurring them on were statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which says suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10-24 and for those ages 12-18.

In Rock Island County, there have been 13 youth suicides since 2009, with five of those occurring in 2010. Ages ranged from 14 years old to 19 years old.

Scott County medical examiner Dr. Barbara Harre said she does not release youth suicide statistics in the interest of privacy, but she said she has not seen an uptick of high school aged suicide in recent years.

In Illinois, concern about suicides, led to the passage of AnnMarie’s Law, signed by the governor Aug. 21, 2015, which requires school to create a “specific, comprehensive, actionable and age-appropriate policy on youth suicide awareness and prevention.”

The implementation of that law was one of the issues Ms. Harty addressed with the board in April 2016. Ms. Boeye said it was not that the district was noncompliant, but it takes time to get pieces of the new law in place and, she said, at that time, none of the local school districts had implemented the law.

The district now is compliant, with changes including a suicide awareness page on the high school website with information on risk factors, warning signs and community resources, such as the Robert Young 24 Hour Free Crisis Line, 309-779-2999 or 309-779-3001. Ms. Boeye said a suicide prevention link also is available on the district’s web page for checking grades.

Ms. Harty and Ms. Boeye said they have known each other since their children were grade-schoolers at Rock Island Center for Math and Science. Now the parents of high school and junior high students, both said they helped launch the district’s awareness efforts due to seeing up close the impact suicide and suicidal thoughts has had on loved ones.

Ms. Harty said in addition to the personal connections, she is struck by the fact that more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart, disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined, according to the Jason Foundation.

Ms. Harty and Ms. Boeye said they focused much of their time on fundraising for the high school portion of the awareness campaign. With the help of 63 high school student ambassadors, 283 T-shirts emblazoned with “Rocky Strong, Break a Secret, Save a Life” were sold at $15 each.

Ms. Harty said the original goal was to sell 150 shirts to offset the $3,750 expense of the assemblies.

Ms. Boeye said this success was gratifying. “We wanted them to have buy-in,” she said. “Our vision was to see a sea of red and yellow in the auditorium.”

Freshmen English teacher and student ambassador adviser Andrea Parer said the group was fully invested in the project after hearing Ms. Harty and Ms. Boeye speak.

“Unfortunately, several of the seniors lost a classmate, so this hits pretty close,” Ms. Parer said. “When they heard the speakers, they were just 110 percent on board. They needed no convincing . They were gung-ho from the start.”

Ms. Parer said many of the students “went above and beyond what was asked of them.”

“There’s such a serious epidemic going on, virtually every kid has known someone that has thought about suicide at some point in their lives and they want to make a difference. They want to help with a cause that is often ignored.”

The phrase on the T-shirts is taken from KnowResolve, a nonprofit organization based in Michigan, which is focused on promoting mental health and preventing youth suicides through outreach, advocacy and education.

Rock Island High School and Thurgood Marshall students will attend assemblies presented by KnowResolve Oct. 25 and 26 at the high school. In the evening, public sessions will be held both days at the high school for 90-minute presentations and a forum.

In addition to the general public, Ms. Harty said special invitations were sent to students and families of Alleman High School.

Those attending the KnowResolve sessions will hear from speaker Dennis Liegghio, who shares his story of losing his father to suicide and the struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts that followed for many years. The program includes Mr. Liegghio’s personal story, his music, and the basics of suicide prevention.

Ms. Harty said the junior high portion of the programming will be Nov. 14, when junior high students will be bused to the high school for an assembly featuring MWAH!, a theatrical troupe which covers a range of topics, including drugs, abuse, and youth suicide.

Ms. Harty said the grade school portion of the awareness campaign will be led by elementary counselors, who will deliver monthly sessions with mental health themes that are consistent for all the buildings and age-appropriate.

Ms. Harty said the district needs to have “a constant conversation” about suicide awareness “and I think the district is on board, and the students are on board.”

Because the women have surpassed their initial fundraising goal, additional funds raised will be placed in a special district fund for future use.

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Source: The Rock Island Argus, http://bit.ly/2dI9HPI

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Information from: The Rock Island Argus, http://www.qconline.com/index.shtml

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