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Putting the Unity in Community: The Perseverance of AFSP’s Volunteers

25 Mar 2021 — 3 min read

By Corbin J. Standley, M.A.

Group of AFSP volunteers at Detroit Red Wings game

Can a Young Child Have Suicidal Thoughts?

Corbin J. Standley is the Board Chair for the AFSP Michigan Chapter. He is also a Ph.D. Candidate at Michigan State University, where his research focuses on youth suicide prevention in schools and communities.

Early last year, after having a conversation and providing some mental health resources to a family supporting their father through a crisis, I received a kind email saying, “I am forever grateful to you for connecting me with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. You helped me and my family have some honest and difficult conversations. To say ‘thank you’ feels inadequate.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for our AFSP volunteers over the last year, and I find myself struggling to sufficiently express my appreciation to the hundreds of volunteers in my home state of Michigan, as well as the tens of thousands connected to our local chapters across the country who helped us continue our mission to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. To say “thank you” feels inadequate.

Over the last year, we relied on our core value of community: We are a diverse community made stronger by our common determination to stop suicide. Despite the challenges of the last year, our volunteers continued to engage with their communities, found innovative solutions and strategies to continue their work, and banded together in pursuit of our common goal. Our volunteer board members adapted to ever-changing circumstances, providing continued leadership and guidance in AFSP chapters across the county. Out of the Darkness Walk committees quickly transitioned to virtual experiences to keep their communities engaged in the fight to stop suicide. Our volunteer Field Advocates met virtually with their state and federal legislators to discuss the importance of mental health and suicide prevention legislation. Our Healing Conversations volunteers provided much-needed support to individuals and families who had recently lost a loved one to suicide. Our education volunteers continued to train teachers, parents, students, clergy members, physicians, and many others to recognize the warning signs for suicide and effectively intervene. We continued to fund innovative, life-saving research made possible by our generous walkers and donors. Through it all, our volunteers persevered around our mission and put the “unity” in community.

We have also remained united in our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything we do. From ensuring our organization understands and represents the communities we serve, to elevating the voices in our field with expertise in diverse communities, to developing and strengthening key partnerships with organizations such as the National Latino Behavioral Health Association, AFSP volunteers recognize that our efforts are made stronger when we foster an inclusive environment in which everyone feels welcomed, respected, supported, and valued.

The funds raised, legislation passed, families supported, individuals trained, and research funded are testaments to the dedication and resilience of our volunteers. More than that, however, it is the individual stories that keep me inspired to continue this work after over ten years. It’s the Starbucks barista who notices the #StopSuicide magnet on my car and tells me about her family’s loss and journey to finding hope. It’s the middle school student who survived a suicide attempt that stands up and shares her story to inspire other young girls to pursue a career in science. It’s the family that is motivated to have some honest and difficult conversations to support their loved one. Despite the most unpredictable challenges, our volunteers have continued sharing their stories so others can feel empowered to share their own. Their stories matter and they are central to our work.

Each of us comes to suicide prevention work with a unique story, but we are united in our shared experience of loss, healing, and resilience, and in our desire to make a difference. It is often said that the times are changing for the better when it comes to mental health and suicide. While that is true, the times change because people fight to change them. I’m honored to work alongside tens of thousands of volunteers in AFSP chapters across the country, using their stories and their passion to continue that fight.

Connection makes a difference

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