The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had much to celebrate at the 11th Annual Chapter Leadership Conference in Little Rock this past weekend.
2015 was a year of tremendous growth for the organization, and it showed over the three-day conference. Last November, AFSP reached a milestone to have Chapters in all 50 states, and this was the first opportunity to bring staff and volunteers from each of our 84 AFSP Chapters together to celebrate the accomplishment.
Mike Lamma, AFSP VP of Field Management and Development, kicked things off with a warm welcome and a 50-state roll call which included a few words from Mary Weiler, Chair of the AFSP Chapter Leadership Council, and Christoper Epperson, Chair of the Arkansas Chapter – and our host Chapter for the conference!
Nancy Farrell, AFSP National Board Chair, also spoke about the incredible changes in this organization since she became involved nearly 20 years ago.
AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia offered a leadership address and spoke about the accomplishments of 2015, and a look ahead to 2016 – particularly Project 2025, a comprehensive AFSP collaborative effort to reducing the suicide rate 20% by 2025.
John Madigan moderated the panel discussion. CLC attendees enjoyed the premier of a short video on the AFSP NOW campaign collaboration, including the NOW Campaign PSA that features along with others, AFSP volunteers Steve Iselin and Linda Diaz. Kristen Hawn discussed the need for grassroots activists to reach out to all presidential candidates about the need for better access to mental healthcare treatment and suicide prevention. The NOW campaign is asking all the presidential candidates to make mental health a priority. Christy Kessens and Tara Holmes Ball shared their experiences to date with candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire. Rick Kirchhoff highlighted the connection between the NOW Campaign Pledge and current AFSP public Policy Priorities.
Nicole Dolan, Out of the Darkness Walks Director, and Turnkey CEO Katrina VanHuss shared strategies for making the most out of our Out of the Darkness Walks.
Stephanie Coggin, AFSP VP of Communications and Marketing, and Jonathan Dozier-Ezell, AFSP Digital Communications Manager, revealed the new AFSP.org. The new website has the same important content in an easier to use format – particularly the search functionality on the Chapter pages. Go check it out! Stephanie spoke in a later plenary about telling the AFSP Story, a look at new marketing materials, and how Chapter’s can change culture at the local level.
During one of five breakout session, Maggie Mortali, AFSP Director of Interactive Screening Program, talked about the expansion of the program. Since July 2015, AFSP has added seven sites and connected over 18,000 college students, law enforcement officers, employees, Veterans, Active Duty service members and their families to a mental health professional.
AFSP Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Moutier set the tone for the day with an opening presentation that addressed how AFSP and the suicide prevention movement are reaching a tipping point. During her presentation, Christine spoke about how the tipping point translates into lives saved and highlighted AFSP’s efforts to train clinicians about suicide prevention. The new AFSP initiative to educate clinicians was further discussed during a breakout session with Dr. Jack Jordan, advisor to the AFSP Loss and Healing Council. Look out for information on ways to get involved in the new initiative.
Conference attendees also heard from Dr. Kelly Cukrowicz during a plenary session on suicide risk. Dr. Cukrowicz referenced research she conducted with a grant from AFSP and spoke about understanding suicidal ideation in elderly populations who live in rural communities.
The Conference keynote speaker was Eric Hipple, former NFL player and author ofReal Men do Cry. Mr. Hipple gave a moving speech about his own struggles with mental health conditions and about losing his son to suicide.
During the special Chapter Awards Luncheon a video produced by filmmaker and AFSP area director Mary Jean Coleman was shown. The video highlighted events and education programs held throughout the United States in 2015. Awards highlighted below.
Dr. Doreen Marshall, AFSP VP of Programs, spoke with attendees about AFSP’s commitment to lived experience. She helped attendees understand that lived experience is a continuum of experiences with suicide and suicidal thinking common throughout our society. Dr. Marshall spoke about expanding our programs and initiatives for this important population. During a later presentation Sunday, Dr. Marshall announced the new name of our Loss and Bereavement Department as the Loss and Healing Department. AFSP will be expanding its programs offered to loss survivors. “Healing is a process. It’s the direction that we are headed and it’s the one we want loss survivors to be headed towards as they get more involved with our programs,” Dr. Marshall told the room.
Saturday night brought the annual Chapter Leadership Awards. While all of our chapters do incredible work in their communities across the country, the Awards are a chance to recognize the very best accomplishments. The last award of the night is given to the overall Outstanding Chapter of the Year, which was awarded to the National Capital Area Chapter in Washington, D.C.
This year’s Leadership Award went to our Long Island Area Director, Dale Camhi. Dale became involved with AFSP as a volunteer after her best friend lost a son to suicide. Her long-time efforts with AFSP included creating our first college film, The Truth about Suicide. Under her leadership, the Long Island Out of the Darkness Community Walk has been one of the top three walks in the country for the last 12 years. Dale is retiring in the spring and we will miss her.
In a packed session, AFSP VP of Research, Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman spoke about the importance of scientific discovery in preventing suicide. Volunteers from Florida and Illinois joined Dr. Harkavy-Friedman on stage to talk about our Research Connection program that brings AFSP funded researchers to local communities to talk about their discoveries.
Thank you to all of our speakers for sharing their expertise so that AFSP Chapters can have the best tools to fight suicide in their communities.
And a special thanks to AFSP’s incredible network of volunteers. The hard work and dedication is making a difference, and will help us reach the AFSP goal of reducing the suicide rate 20% by 2025.
Join us for the Overnight Walk in San Francisco on May 21 or New York City on June 4 and please go to an AFSP walk or educational event in your area.
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