Stories about Volunteers
This year I will have lived my life longer without Tom than with him. But he is with me every time I tell his story, train a suicide prevention class, visit with a suicide loss survivor, and attend an Out of the Darkness walk.
Nearly 14 years ago, my family’s life changed forever. On October 1 of 2009, my brother Sean died by suicide. He was 24 years old at the time, and I was only 21. In the weeks, months, and years that followed, each of us processed and worked through that horrible loss in our own ways.
As a queer Christian, I see how much pain and suffering my queer siblings face, and the statistics around suicide in the LGBTQ community are heartbreaking. Through organizations such as AFSP and The Trevor Project, I have learned so much about suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community.
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.
Celebrating Our Volunteers: How The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is Making a Difference Through Its 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. In recognition of National Volunteer Appreciation Week (April 16-22, 2023), we salute and thank them, and all our remarkable volunteers.
How I Became a Chief Hope Hugger at The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walks
I first got involved with AFSP because of my own person struggles with mental health. As a volunteer I want to support everyone I can, and I discovered I could do that with something as simple as giving a hug!
My wife Alice and I had known each other for 35 years and been married for 33 years. Losing her to suicide in 2016 was a terrible, traumatic experience. 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.
My interest in helping those with mental health challenges originated when I was working as a Registered Nurse in an inpatient psychiatric unit. I worked with families who struggled to understand the dynamics of their loved ones who were experiencing distress.
I am a Black woman, and in our community, suicide is largely taboo. It is time for that mindset to be eradicated. I am doing my best to bring about the conversation of suicide prevention in our untapped populations, especially those of color.
Mental health and suicide are topics that are not spoken about enough in the Latinx community, though suicide has always impacted us. It’s exciting to me that AFSP’s Talk Saves Lives education program is available in Spanish.
I would like to see a world without suicide, in which everyone takes care of their mental health, and all people support one another and are kind to each other. Everyone should have access to the mental health support and services that they need.
When I envision my hope for the future, stigma around mental health will be a thing of the past. I plan to participate in the healing of our world by being transparent, and teaching others what I’ve learned through my times of struggle and triumph.
We couldn’t accomplish all we do throughout the country without the support of our volunteers, many of whom have a personal connection to the cause. Their passion, support, and hard work makes all the difference and provides the backbone of community that is felt by more and more people every day.
I got involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2011 after I lost my dad to suicide. At first, I didn’t use the word suicide when I was telling people that my dad had passed away. But shortly after that, I realized there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I attended Survivor Day for the first time the following year. I expected everyone to be crying and sad. But I loved it. I understood instantly that I was in a room with people who knew exactly how I felt.
There are still taboos that exist for some people in our community where you don’t really talk about mental health or suicide. AFSP’s community-based Talk Saves Lives program (for adults 18+) is another way of engaging people.
Running with my friends’ pictures on my back, and crossing the finish line, was the most empowering experience I had ever been a part of. Running with our Team AFSP gear on, we got lots of positive comments like, “Thanks for what you’re doing!”
COVID-19 presented many challenges for our volunteers over the last year, and I find myself struggling to express my appreciation to the hundreds of volunteers in Michigan, and the thousands connected to local chapters across the country who helped us continue to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.
Sometimes it’s hard for someone who’s not a part of the military to understand the challenges military service members and their families have. I wanted to see more education made available to service members as well as their families.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I finally gave myself the opportunity to heal, and learn more. I helped bring our first Out of the Darkness Campus Walk to my college in 2011.
What first brought me to AFSP was the support it provides within the community. AFSP has done a really good job of bringing its education trainings to churches, and community centers, and allowing a space where people can come in and learn about mental health and suicide prevention.
I first got involved with AFSP in college through volunteering for the San Francisco Community Walk. My partner lost his best friend to suicide and I wanted to find ways to support him.
Suicide prevention is important to me because I want to be a voice for people who don’t have that voice.
In the midst of our journey toward providing suicide safer care, I had the opportunity to learn about AFSP’s Project 2025, and got really excited because here was this national effort to reduce the suicide rate in our country 20% by the year 2025, and one of its four main areas was healthcare systems.
Volunteers and staff members from our local chapters across the country came together virtually this year for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s 16th Annual Chapter Leadership Conference.
I have learned that the road to healing is not easy, but few worthwhile things in our lives are easy.
When asked why I volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, my first thoughts are about the faces of the people who have been impacted by suicide and how their stories motivate me to serve.
As staff, we are so humbled and honored to stand beside our volunteers in these efforts.
As we celebrate National Volunteer Week we say thank you for everything our volunteers do every day in the fight against suicide. We are honored have you on our team. Thanks for all you do.