Helping & healing motivate UW students and May 18 walk
Helping & healing motivate UW students and May 18 walkPublished 04/29/2014
Juliana Borges didn’t arrive at the University of Washington with the intention of becoming a leading student advocate for campus suicide prevention. After losing a close friend to suicide, she only knew she needed time to heal. “Fall of my freshman year at the UW, I wasn’t thinking, ‘suicide prevention is something I’m definitely investing myself in,’” she says. “I was still going through a grieving process.”
For Borges, that process included attending Seattle’s Out of the Darkness Walk at Green Lake, then working with fellow students to move it to the UW and organize other campus-based suicide prevention events. This year the walk will benefit Husky Help and Hope (H3), the Forefront-facilitated program to prevent suicide and improve mental health on the UW Seattle campus. It will start at 11 a.m., Sunday, May 18, in Red Square. Click here for details and registration.
“Planning that walk with a few other UW students was a really cathartic way for me in that first year after my friend’s death to put my energies to something constructive,” Borges says. “It just encouraged me and us to go farther.”
Three years later, Borges and her friend Beau Castillo are at the front of suicide prevention advocacy on campus. As the founders and co-presidents of Huskies for Suicide Prevention and Awareness (HSPA), the duo have grown the club from a small student group focused on one annual event into an elastic organization in just two years.
Since fall quarter, HSPA’s membership has tripled from five core club officers to 15 active members. “We have 10-15 people who are consistently involved in HSPA, but we always have a few random people who come and just engage with the meeting, which is really nice,” Castillo says. “Our reach on campus is definitely slowly expanding.”
The club’s expanding membership mirrors its expanding mission. Last year, HSPA’s main focus was to bring the Out of the Darkness walk to campus to fundraise for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national research and education non-profit.
The money raised by this year’s H3 Walk will stay on campus to help UW students at risk of suicide. While donations are important, the co-presidents’ main goal is to break down the stigmas associated with suicide.
“Registration is free and we want people to attend regardless of whether they donate or not,” Borges says. “A huge goal of the walk is to fundraise for Forefront but, equally so, we want encourage people to come out and talk to each other about this topic because suicide can be a taboo subject.”
The H3 walk is just part of HSPA’s expanded awareness and fundraising agenda.
“It’s definitely an evolving mission,” Borges says. The expansion is evidenced by the group’s turnout in Olympia this winter as part of Forefront’s Lobby Day to promote passage of a historic suicide prevention bill. It will continue during spring quarter with plans to bring therapy dogs to campus and hold awareness training sessions.
Another example of the club’s growth is its spring bake sale at the View Ridge PCC, which raised $812 for H3. Sophomore and sale organizer Emily Murphy describes the event as a true group effort. Members and their families contributed baked goods and “everyone in the club was involved in some way.”
For senior Diane Ha, the event highlighted the impact of the group’s efforts on the community. Toward the end of the event, a man approached and thanked Ha and Murphy for their efforts. Ha recalls him as “trying to find his words.”
The man donated $20, telling them he had lost a close friend to suicide three years ago, and had kept that bill in his car to donate in the person’s memory. For Ha and Murphy, that conversation was the most impactful moment of the day.
“Joining HSPA was my way of coping with losing [someone] two years ago,” Ha says, and she wanted to let the man know he wasn’t alone in the healing process.
Borges and Castillo think that sentiment might be shared by many members of the club.
“I think, more so this year, it has been people who are directly connected to the cause from having lost someone,” Borges says. “There is something nice about being surrounded by people who have gone through a similar loss.”
Castillo echoes that sentiment, noting that group “sharing circles” helped him realize how important community is to the healing process.
“Having the opportunity to just be in a setting like that is very cathartic,” he says. “ It’s just nice to understand that the human experience, when it comes to something like this, is so interconnected that—through sharing— we can understand each other and help each other through things like this.” — By Stephan Yhann