University of Washington
Need help now?  Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255
Need Help Now? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 1.800.273.8255

Together: 2014 event reaches new heights

Together: 2014 event reaches new heights

Lights dimmed as a capacity crowd turned to the video "Change Is Possible," capturing the pain of suicide loss and ideation and the power of change. —photo by Ann Slothower

There were hugs, cheers and even a few tears the evening of Sept. 30 when about 400 Forefront supporters gathered at The Mountaineers Club in Seattle to celebrate the organization’s momentous first year of promoting big-picture change in suicide prevention. See Ryan Zemke's video of the evening here.

Animated conversation filled the room as guests enjoyed plates heaped with mezes provided by Vios Café restaurateur Thomas Soukakos, and wines and desserts donated by numerous friends of Forefront. To the upbeat tone set by the Ari Joshua Trio, people connected with old and new friends and colleagues who shared their passion and understood their pain. Forefront Cares loss survivors met peer phone supporters face to face; advocates and professionals exchanged ideas, and the prevention community grew even closer and more determined to make a difference in schools, media, health care, policy and lives.

Emcee Tracy Taylor noted that many in the room, like her, had personal connections to suicide. Her reminder that 1,000 Washington lives are lost each year underscored the urgency of Forefront’s cause, and a powerful short video by LenzSkerrit Productions got to the heart of why “Change is Possible” and desperately important.

Forefront has indeed initiated and advanced significant change. Co-founders Sue Eastgard and Jennifer Stuber hit the highlights of a whirlwind first year:

Jennifer Stuber and Sue Eastgard report on a whirlwind first year. — photo by Ann Slothower• leading a grassroots campaign to support passage of HB 2315, a suicide prevention bill making Washington the first state to require suicide prevention training for doctors and nurses—perhaps, Stuber said, “the most forward thinking response to the problem of suicide in the country;” 

training well over 1,000 behavioral health professionals and graduate level social work students in suicide risk assessment and management, and working on new training initiatives;

• launching Forefront Cares to provide resources, comfort and peer phone support for Washington residents newly bereaved by suicide;

working with news media to educate the public about suicide prevention and mental health, and collaborating with Facebook to respond to suicidal posts—a project with potential to help save lives around the world.

An emotional high point was the lengthy standing ovation for Training Director Sue Eastgard, who received the inaugural award for suicide prevention training excellence, which henceforth will bear her name. Prior to helping launch Forefront and its training programs, Eastgard founded the Youth Suicide Prevention Program of Washington State in 1999 and served as its director until June 2011. She is also a past director of the Crisis Clinic of Seattle/King County and past president of the American Association of Suicidology. 

Debbie Wilder of Boise, Idaho, accepted the second annual Tina Orwall Policy Award on behalf of her brother, John Osborn, MD, who could not attend. Acting as a private citizen and medical professional, Osborn campaigned effectively for HB 2315 and has advocated for suicide prevention at the national level. The internist, who has served 28 years with the Spokane Veterans Administration Medical Center, was honored for his personal and professional dedication to suicide prevention.

Jacob Jones, a staff writer for the Inlander in Spokane, received the Washington Mental Health Reporting Award for his series on how the criminal justice system handles people living with mental illness. Co-sponsored by the University of Washington Department of Communication, the annual award honors Washington state journalism that improves the public’s understanding of suicide prevention, behavioral illnesses, treatment, recovery, public policy and related topics.

Musical performances by two women with different styles but a common commitment to preventing suicide added another dimension.  Folksinger Mari Earl opened the program with It’s Worth It, her affirmation of life after losing her nephew, Kurt Cobain, to suicide. Vocalist Gina Salá built on a Somali chant to remind everyone that We Are the Village as they clapped along and some began writing their donation checks to support Forefront’s work.

The checks kept coming as Forefront volunteer and Forefront Cares recipient Kristine Kuch told her personal story of finding connection and comfort amidst “a room of strangers” at the launch event last year. A stranger no more, she called Forefront and staff members Katie Simmons and Lauren Davis integral to her healing after the death of her brother. Donations exceeded $125,000, with additional gifts continuing to arrive.

The evening was underwritten by generous sponsorship from (Founder level) Permera Blue Cross; (Innovator level); DLA Piper in honor of Matt Adler; (Friend) Facebook, UW School of Nursing; (Fan) Blucora, UW School of Social Work, UW College of Education, Seattle Children’s, Delta Dental and Morgan Stanley. More than 50 volunteers contributed countless hours to everything from planning to flower arranging, set-up to clean-up.

If you missed the opportunity to give on Sept. 30, you can donate here. To learn more or volunteer, click on Get Involved.