February 1, 2017 – On Saturday, January 21 at AFSP’s annual Chapter Leadership Conference, Pat Gainey, Pennsylvania Regional Director, was recognized for her outstanding contributions over the years. We took this opportunity to ask her a few questions about how she got involved with AFSP, what keeps her going, and the future of suicide prevention.
What was your reaction when you found out you were receiving the Individual Achievement Award for Leadership?
I was pleasantly surprised. But the real praise goes to the countless volunteers who do this job every day without any compensation. They are the real “stars” of this story.
You’ve been a staff member since 2004. What first got you involved with AFSP?
Like most of our staff, I have a personal connection to the cause. I have a close family member with a history of mental illness. As a caretaker, it has been a real journey to see the landscape change in regard to society’s awareness of brain diseases. It’s been gratifying for me to know that I have contributed to the general public knowing more about mental health issues and empowering communities to get involved in advocating for attention to our mission.
Over the last 12 years, you’ve raised over five million dollars for AFSP, and overseen the tremendous growth of our five Pennsylvania chapters. The Philadelphia chapter is one of our strongest, and the Philadelphia Out of the Darkness Walk is our second biggest walk. What would you say were the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work with AFSP?
I have to say that the first few years I was involved were pretty tough. Any time a new area of work is introduced into the market, there is skepticism about staying power – people are waiting to see if you are just another “flash in the pan.” But I knew I had the chops to do it. I would go into a community and organize a suicide prevention walk and not know a single soul. But I’ve always lived by the motto, “If you see a good fight, get in it.” This is a really good fight.
What do you consider your greatest achievement in your work for AFSP?
Definitely bringing the work we do to communities: giving survivors a place to safely grieve their loved ones and helping to support them on their journey of hope and healing.
You’re retiring in April. Is there anything left that you’d like to accomplish, or set in motion before you go?
Sure, there is always work to be done. But I know we have paved the way for the next generation to carry on with the confidence that “doing the right thing is never wrong.” I think it was Mark Twain who said that. I’ll find out while I’m reading from my lounge at the beach!
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