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Celebrating Our Volunteers: How The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is Making a Difference Through Its People

April 4, 2023 – 5 min read

By Mike Lamma, AFSP Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

A blue background with fuchsia text that says "We Love Our Volunteers," in the shape of a heart.

People always ask me what the key is to the incredible impact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention makes in communities across the country. How are you able to accomplish so much? I have an easy answer to those questions. It’s our volunteers. While there are millions of wonderful volunteers devoted to many great causes, never have I met a group of more passionate and positive people. Through local chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, our volunteers do the work of carrying out AFSP’s mission of saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide.

Despite suffering unbearable loss, or struggling personally, they are committed to AFSP’s mission and making sure others do not have to suffer as they have.

Take a minute to get to know some of the remarkable individuals below. Each of these snapshots link to a fuller story, as well as a video, capturing their passion and dedication.

In recognition of National Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 16-22, 2023), we salute and thank them, and all our remarkable volunteers.


Paul Augustyniak
Tennessee chapter

“My wife Alice and I had known each other for 35 years and been married for 33 years – more than half our lives. Losing her to suicide in 2016 was a terrible, traumatic experience. I had lost my wife and friend. My sons had lost their mother.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day occurs each year very close to the time Alice passed away. I’d heard about the local Survivor Day event and placed it on my calendar. But it took a lot for me to drive myself to the event that day. I really didn’t know what to expect…It was the people I met through AFSP who convinced me to become involved as a volunteer. I realized that we gain more strength through connection.”


Maggie Alston
Greater Central New York chapter

“I have attempted to take my own life. That does not mean I am broken.

I first came across the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Binghamton, New York while looking on Facebook for support groups in my area. 

Once I started to hear other people’s stories at the Walk, I felt for the first time like it was okay for me to open up and start to deal with my past.

I left that Walk and knew I wanted to keep coming back.”


Terri Lavely
Vermont chapter

“In January of 2016, I lost my 18-year-old nephew to suicide. The loss was devastating. Most heartbreaking was watching my son’s grief process. The boys were only five months apart. 

I connected with the Vermont chapter in 2018, when I attended an Advocacy 101 training. Advocacy 101 teaches volunteers how to safely share their personal story to advocate for legislation at both the state and federal level. It empowers everyday people to have a voice, and encourage changes to systems that will positively impact people. I left that training feeling like I could share with the President of the United States if I needed to, and feel no anxiety about it.

Since that time, I have assisted in delivering the Advocacy 101 training each year. I also meet with our local representatives 1:1 when we are working on getting bills passed.”


William Floyd
North Texas chapter

“I think a big misconception is that those with lived experience are selfish or weak. We are neither. Mental health can be like a labyrinth, and it takes a lot to navigate out of the darkness.

Suicide prevention education is so important because there are still people who wrongly believe that willpower can get you through depression, or that therapy and medication are crutches for weak people. The prevalence of suicide is also under-recognized. That’s why we’re out there, presenting the Talk Saves Lives™ education program.”


Allyson Sipes
South Carolina chapter

“My passion for suicide prevention stems from my personal experience with both suicide loss and lived experience, and from my professional work in public mental health for over 20 years.

One of the four critical areas of Project 2025 is Firearms. I’ve also helped support another area of Project 2025, Healthcare Systems, through SafeSide Prevention, which provides suicide prevention training for medical practices.

My AFSP chapter is like a second family to me. Our chapter has so many opportunities to get out and engage in the community. We are truly boots on the ground, connecting with people.”


Kyle Morrison
Wisconsin chapter

“I have lost two close friends to suicide. I am also a suicide attempt survivor.

My first attempt was at the age of 13. My last attempt was when I was 19. I was bullied for being gay, wearing glasses and being deaf in one ear. I was constantly put down by others. I had come to believe the things that were said to me. I started to feel like the world would be better off without me. My family and friends never knew that I was struggling, because I kept everything inside.

Participating and volunteering at the Milwaukee Out of the Darkness Walk in 2019 was life-changing.”


Cara Levinson
Illinois chapter

“We lost our beloved daughter Elana in 2007, when she was eighteen.

In Spring 2009, I attended my first AFSP Advocacy Forum in D.C., featuring speakers from AFSP and the government. Attendees came from all over the country, with lots of different experiences. But I recognized myself in them: that I was part of a larger, dedicated, collaborative community. I learned there was work to be done and that I had the capacity to do it. I was hooked.”


Mary Jeanne Miller & Amy Micheletti
Oregon chapter

MJ (mom): When my 20-year-old son Jake died by suicide in February 2008, my heart was broken. 

Amy (sister): Our family was having a tough time processing the fact that Jake was gone. I was a new mother, and I couldn't imagine what MJ was going through, losing her youngest child.

MJ: The Community Walks became an opportunity not just to receive support, but to help others. The Overnight became an annual tradition for us to see each other.

Amy: My experience with the Overnight deepens every year. I get so much from the Overnight community, which has become like family to us. 

MJ:  I know Jake is clapping and cheering all of us on in our efforts to bring light and hope to those who struggle, and the people who love them.


Alexander Silva
National Capital Area chapter

I thought I already knew about suicide prevention when my friend Jonathan died. I’d been working in the mental health career field for the United States Air Force for years. I was experienced in talking about it in a clinical context with patients, but when he died I found myself completely lost.

After Jonathan died, I put together an Out of the Darkness Walk team in his memory. After the Walk, I showed up to a Talk Saves Lives™ presentation. I had given suicide prevention briefings for work, but had never seen anything so well put together. 

Today I continue to serve in the Mental Health career field within the Air Force, and am the Military and Veteran Outreach Chair for AFSP‘s National Capital Area Chapter.

To me, AFSP is the embodiment of effective leadership. Every volunteer can use their strengths and contribute in whatever capacity suits them. We all share the same mission – to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”