Forefront co-founder Jennifer Stuber looked around the Grand Ballroom in the UW’s Husky Union Building in wonder as she addressed the audience on Wednesday, Nov. 18. “Two years ago, we filled a space one quarter this size,” she said. “Last year, we filled a space half this size. Now look where we’ve come!” Nearly 600 supporters packed the ballroom – which for the record is nearly two-thirds the length of a football field – to celebrate the social impact organization’s third year of promoting innovative change in suicide prevention
The festive space was alive with conversation as guests enjoyed an array of Greek appetizers and rich, flavorful dips provided by Vios Café restaurateur Thomas Soukakos. Additional friends of Forefront contributed wines, desserts and locally crafted beer. There was a palpable sense of empathy as friends, advocates and professionals connected, some face-to-face for the first time, to share stories of pain and healing. A common passion renewed their commitment to be “champions of change” for suicide prevention in schools, media, health care, policy and individual lives.
As Stuber noted, the momentum just keeps growing. Over the past year, Forefront has welcomed an executive director, forged a partnership with Facebook, helped pass SHB 1138, which will create a task force in suicide prevention across the state’s 54 public and private college campuses, and launched the Forefront in the Schools pilot program serving 14 local schools. Also new this year is its work with the Seattle Police Department’s chaplaincy program.
Executive director Matthew Taylor, who moved from Montana to join Forefront, first learned about Forefront in Washington, D.C. “Forefront is nationally known and respected,” he said. Taylor likened working for change and healing to connecting with the power and energy of a river. As a fly fisher, he has learned to work with the river, and says it’s much the same for the social movement swelling around suicide prevention. “Forefront’s efforts, and even this event tonight, are like a river channel through which the potential for social change can flow…into an energy that unites us all,” he said.
Three speakers shared powerful perspectives on the evening’s theme of “Care, Connect, Build.”
- Charlie Scoma, head chaplain for the Seattle Police Department, oversees 10 community chaplains; he is also a pastor at University Presbyterian Church. “Last year was my first suicide call, on Christmas Eve,” he said. “I wondered who would come [to follow up with the family] when I left. Now that I’ve met up with Forefront, it’s so good to know that Forefront Cares will be there with a care package, and not only that, but someone to walk with them every step of the way.” Scoma added, “Grief is never a moment. It’s a lifetime, it’s a journey.”
- With today’s technology, a journey can cover the globe. Facebook project manager Rob Boyle said the social media giant’s goal is to connect people during the good times, but also the not-so-good: “The first thing Forefront taught us was the power of connection.” Forefront and Facebook’s collaboration began last February; its goal is to provide online resources and support to help people at risk for suicide.
- Also new this past year was Forefront in the Schools Fall Academy, a two-day training in September that brought 14 King County high schools together for comprehensive training. Tina Camero, a counselor at Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School, described what it meant to her school to have the training after three students died last year in North End schools; two by suicide. “We created a protocol, a safety plan, and asked families to remove lethal means from their homes. Hale will soon train teachers and staff in suicide – then the students, then the parents,” Camero said. The academy is funded by the Jolene McCaw Family Foundation.
Stories can be told many ways, including musically. Piano soloist and composer Matthew Felton played “Dream of Love,” a soulful, improvisational jazz piece, as guests paused to reflect on those they had loved and lost. Musician Sam Foster, 16, a student at Issaquah High School, played guitar and sang his original song, “The Reason.” Melodic yet strong, it brought a standing ovation. Here is an excerpt:
No don’t despair
Don’t make it seem unfair
Just look for your reason
Figure out why you’re there
The video “Three Love Stories” featured survivors talking about their loved ones: a son and brother, in one segment; a middle-aged man discussing the death of his longtime partner; and a mother’s anguish over her teenage daughter’s suicide attempt. The daughter also appears in the video. The video is being viewed and shared around the world. Watch it and share it here.
David Yamashita spoke of losing his mother, Patricia Joy Yamashita, to suicide when she was 54. “A Forefront cares package saved my life,” he told the audience. He traveled to Olympia and told her story there this past spring, helping persuade legislators to pass HB1424, which requires suicide prevention education for physicians and nurses to include information on restricting access to lethal means for individuals who may be at-risk of suicide.
KING5-TV traffic reporter Tracy Taylor, the evening’s emcee, was one of many with tears in her eyes after Yamashita spoke. As she had told the crowd at the outset, she too had lost a parent, as well as an uncle and a friend. “This is why I’m here today, and will be here next year as well,” she said.
More than $200,000 was raised to help Forefront “Care, Connect, Build” (see details below). It will help more people who are newly bereaved by suicide, and support more schools, colleges, social service agencies, health professionals and dedicated community members to prevent suicide. If you missed the opportunity to give on Nov.18, you can donate here. To learn more or volunteer, click on Get Involved. — By Karen Rathe
Sponsors, donors and volunteers give generously
The evening was underwritten by generous sponsorship from Premera Blue Cross, Nintendo, DLA Piper in honor of Matt Adler, Parker Smith Feek, UW School of Social Work, Facebook, LivingWorks, Blucora, Recovery Innovations, UW College of Education, Seattle Children’s, UW School of Nursing, Scrub Daddy, Gina Sala Global Vocals, Delta Dental and Morgan Stanley; Emily Anthony Consulting, Pacific Heritage Appraisal, and Seattle Bank.
Adding to the excitement, these donors created a $50,000 matching pool for gifts of $1,000 or more: The Mark Torrance Foundation, Dino and Jeannine Christofilis, the Jolene McCaw Family Foundation, Bruce and Barbara Wolff Foundation, Sue Eastgard, the loved ones of Ethan Smith, and an anonymous donor.
More than 60 volunteers contributed countless hours to everything from planning to flower arranging, set-up to clean-up. Huskies for Suicide Prevention Awareness (HSPA) turned out in force to help set up, welcome guests and pitch in wherever they were needed.
Awards honor excellence
Four award-winners were recognized in a ceremony prior to the event.
Marny Lombard received the Tina Orwall Public Service Award for her tireless efforts to grow Washington’s suicide prevention movement through: the 2015 Zero Suicide conference in Eastern Washington, support for bereaved loss survivors and families of children who have major depression, vital contributions to Forefront’s media program, the state’s inaugural Suicide Prevention and Higher Education Conference, and passage of HB1138. State Rep. Orwall (D-33rd district) presented the award saying, “Marny lost her son Sam, who lived with depression, when he was in college. … Among her passions, she reaches out to families during their difficult times.” Lombard responded, “when you lose everything … you may also lose your fear, and this enables you to move forward to build a new life.”
The Sue Eastgard Training Excellence Award was presented to two accomplished clinicians and trainers who have come together to develop and deliver lectures and video-based workshops for therapists and other healthcare workers who address suicide risk in diverse clinical settings. Jeffrey Sung, M.D., is an acting instructor with the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and president-elect of the Washington State Psychiatric Association, and Keith Myers, LICSW, is a practicing clinician and vice president of clinical and training services for Wellspring Counseling in King County.
Everett Daily Herald reporter Diana Hefley received the 2015 Award for Excellence in Coverage of Mental Health and Suicide (co-sponsored by the UW Department of Communication) for her article on Caroline Hetherwick Goza, “An Advocate for Parents Whose Children Struggle With Mental Illness.” Goza and her husband also attended the event.
The KING5-TV news staff received a special commendation for its exemplary efforts to educate the public about suicide, mental health, hope and recovery. Of particular note was a special day of suicide prevention news programming on March 12, 2015, featuring reporting by Heather Graf, Michael Konopasek and Elisa Hahn. Hahn explained that news organizations traditionally say little about suicide, but KING5 has changed the way it thinks about the topic, and treats it as an important public health issue for its viewers to understand.