At the beginning of 2021, one of my goals for the year was to put myself out there more. Almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home for months left me feeling bored of my daily routine. I’ve always had a zest for life and enjoy trying new things.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has 72 local chapters all over the country, with at least one in each state. Part of my job, as a Development Assistant in AFSP’s national office, involves assisting AFSP’s local Area Directors with chapter-related inquiries. Our chapters carry out AFSP’s mission of saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide at a local, community level, providing educational programming, holding advocacy events, providing support programs for those affected by suicide, and so much more! One type of event held during the spring is our Out of the Darkness Campus Walks. These events help raise awareness and funds for this important cause, helping to connect students with understanding and resources. This year, because of the pandemic, the event looked different, with virtual events connecting young people and communities in a whole new way.
As a way of getting myself out of my funk – and inspired by all the things I see AFSP’s amazing volunteers do – I decided I wanted to get more involved with my local chapter. I am a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and have a strong interest in expanding access to mental health and suicide prevention resources for others in the LGBTQ community. The local LGBTQ committee for AFSP’s Long Island chapter was newly formed, so there was lots of opportunity for me to help it grow! I was asked if I would be interested in leading an LGBTQ team for our now virtual Campus Walk event. Of course, I accepted and started recruiting team members for the LGBTQ committee’s official team: Team Rainbow.
I felt I had to do something BIG to help my team raise funds and surpass our goal! As part of this year’s physically safe Out of the Darkness virtual events, participants could come up with their own activities to capture peoples’ attention and help raise funds. I brainstormed and brainstormed, but my mind kept coming back to a particular secret talent of mine...hula hooping! I’ve always been a natural at hula hooping, and I even felt I could do it for three to four consecutive hours! (I know, causal.) I decided to put myself up to the challenge to try to raise funds by hula hooping for an hour straight, on my personal Instagram. This would really be putting the FUN in FUNdraising.
I created a music playlist that was exactly one hour long, consisting of songs that would energize me throughout the hour. My hula hooping hour would take place on our Virtual Campus Walk Day of Action, a day on which participants are encouraged to take action to spread the message of AFSP in any way they chose.
I shared my fundraising idea with my family, friends, and the LGBTQ committee. They all loved the idea, but some were doubtful that I could do it for a full hour, as I haven’t done it for long periods of time in such a long while! I practiced until I was able to finally do it for 45 minutes straight: not quite a full hour, but close enough! I decorated a spot in my home with rainbows galore, set up a ring light, and went live on my Instagram to hula hoop and raise funds. On the Day of Action, I was able to hula hoop for an hour and five minutes, and surpassed my goal on my fundraising page!
I am so glad I took this step to get more involved with my local chapter, and feel great about how I was able to focus my participation in a way that felt so personal and meaningful to me. Beyond this one event, it’s wonderful to be able to connect with others on the committee, and discuss ways we want to spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention, while focusing on LGBTQ specific topics. The experience definitely changed up my routine in a great way within the context of this year.
Of course, you don’t have to work at AFSP to become a volunteer! I encourage anyone reading this to connect with their local AFSP chapter, and get involved in whatever way is meaningful to them, to help make a difference in their own community.