47 T-Shirts: An AFSP SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW with Elizabeth Colavecchio

August 29, 2017 – During Elizabeth Colavecchio’s time spent with AFSP – first as a volunteer, and then as Public Policy Coordinator in our Washington, D.C. office – she has joined in numerous Out of the Darkness Overnight, Campus, and Community Walks, helped 32 states plan State Capitol Day events, presented at the Chapter Leadership Conference and a statewide suicide prevention conference in Maryland, and helped plan two Advocacy Forums. She’s attended press conferences and summits on Capitol Hill, watched our amazing volunteers get bills passed across the country, sat in on the vote for the 21st Century Cures Act, and even went to the White House Easter Egg Roll.

Yet what stood out for me, reading a post on Liz’s Facebook page in which she recounted packing her bags to move back to her childhood home in Florida, was the immense amount of AFSP clothing she’s accumulated over the years! Namely: 47 t-shirts, four hoodies, one pair of sweat pants, and one pair of socks. (Why only one pair of socks?)

Fascinated, and sad to hear she was leaving, I sat down to discuss this with her over email.

So, Liz, I hear you’re leaving us? What will you be doing now?

I will be teaching three-to-six-year-olds in a Montessori school at the beach. #Sunshine! Being back in Florida means I’ll be able to spend more time with my family and friends. I hope to get back involved as a volunteer working with children in a local domestic violence shelter, which is another passion of mine, and return to doing photography on the side. But most importantly, I’m planning to return to volunteering with the North Florida Chapter of AFSP. I love and believe in AFSP and its mission, to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, too much to not be involved in some capacity.

What got you involved with us, and suicide prevention, in the first place?

As a senior in high school, I lost a friend to suicide. In 2003, there were no resources readily available at the school. A small group of us went to school officials and asked if they would do an educational assembly on suicide prevention, but they told us no: that it wasn’t an “acceptable” way to die. Well, don’t tell me no. I had an assignment to research a topic for my psychology class, so I changed mine to suicide prevention. Three months later, my friends and I lost another friend to suicide and it fueled my passion even more.

In 2005 yet another friend died by suicide. A few of us made bright pink shirts with a picture of a squirrel to remember our friend, whose nickname was Skwerly. This was the loss that really lit the fire for me to get involved on a bigger level with suicide prevention. My friend Chelsea and I use to write poetry and we decided to put our writings into a book, sell it, and donated the money to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. My friends and I attended our first Out of the Darkness Walk in 2009.

I joined my local chapter board shortly after that walk. In 2013 I took over as chapter chair, and in 2015 I was awarded Field Advocate of the Year and then was hired in 2016. As a staff person, since I didn’t fundraise, I made it a point to purchase something from each walk I attended.

This brings us to the incredible amount of AFSP clothing you own!

I’ve always had a dedicated “AFSP drawer” in my dresser, but I never took the time to count just how many items were in it! 47 shirts, four hoodies, one pair of sweat pants and one pair of socks. This doesn’t include some of my homemade suicide prevention-related shirts, because those are in a separate area.

Impressive. Do you remember what your first piece of AFSP swag was?

My first piece of AFSP swag was a dark blue Out of the Darkness Walk t-shirt that I received at my first walk in 2009. I still have it, but it’s at the point where the material might rip any day from all the washes. But I still wear it!

Do you have any memories associated with a specific piece of clothing?

Each item has its own memories to go with it, and each is special in its own way. I think the most exciting memory is the white shirt I received after completing the Philadelphia Overnight, which was my first Overnight. I started with just one teammate and ended with eight. (Shout-out to #TeamBrandonPartyof8!) It was an amazing experience.

Speaking of Overnights, a homemade shirt that has great memories is one we made after the Boston Overnight. It was cold and rained the entire time. After that walk, my team and I started to gauge how challenging something is by comparing it to the Boston event. So we had shirts made that said, “On a scale of One to Boston….”

Has wearing AFSP clothing ever sparked an unexpected conversation?

I always say I’m a walking AFSP billboard…and I really wouldn’t want it any other way! What better way to get the conversation started than by having someone feel comfortable telling you their story because of your shirt? I’ve heard from people on planes, taxis, and Ubers; drivers, cashiers, doctors all share their stories of loss or survival. That’s why I love wearing the wristbands; I often give them away when someone shares their story with me. It serves as a reminder of our conversation and that they aren’t alone, and also gives them our website to find resources.

I had a shirt made before the Philadelphia Overnight that is black with yellow writing. On the front it says “Ask me why I’m walking 18 miles,” and on the back it says, “Who would you walk 18 miles for?” Then it had a QR code to my fundraising page. That shirt drew a LOT of attention. I still wear it every now and then, even though the code isn’t relevant anymore. It’s worth it for the conversations.

Okay, we have to wrap this up! If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, and could only take one of your AFSP items, what would it be?

I would bring my “30 Years Strong” anniversary mug. I’m assuming there will be coffee on this island, right? If there’s no coffee, I would bring my “Be the Voice Umbrella,” so I could have some shade.

Inspired to stock up on some AFSP-branded items, and help support the fight to stop suicide? Click here to get to the store. Happy shopping!


Like what you're reading? Go to our Sharing Your Story page, where you'll find resources for sharing your own story, including story ideas, blog submission guidelines, tips for sharing your story safely and creative exercises to help you get started, and assignments for upcoming topics.

Write a blog post for AFSP! Click here for our Submission Guidelines.