On the evening of Nov. 30, more than 725 people packed Husky Union Building ballroom to support Forefront—a School of Social Work research and innovation center dedicated to suicide prevention—for its 4th annual event called "A Place for Everyone." Advocates from all walks of life dined together, remembered those lost to suicide and celebrated major successes. The event raised nearly $250,000 to support Forefront operations for 2016–2017.
Over the past year, Forefront has succeeded in making Washington a model suicide prevention state with high-impact efforts, such as expanding prevention programs into three rural counties and to 14 high schools and 13 colleges and universities; providing leadership for the passage of HB 2793, a fifth suicide prevention bill to establish a Suicide Safer Homes Task Force; presenting two conferences dedicated to preventing suicide in higher education; and training approximately 2,000 individuals.
Emcees Tracy Taylor of KING 5 and entertainment correspondent Scott Carty shared their own stories of suicide loss. “We’re here tonight to build strong suicide prevention communities,” said Taylor, who is in her fourth year as a Forefront event emcee. Additional speakers included:
- Washington state first lady Trudi Inslee shared the story of Brennen Smith, who purchased a pawn shop shotgun in five minutes, yet died by suicide during a 29-day waiting period to see a mental health counselor. Applause rippled through the room when the state's first lady mentioned Governor Jay Inslee's signing of an executive order earlier this year to launch and steer Washington’s Suicide Prevention Action Alliance. “We’re now working with gun ranges and dealers, with mental health providers, across systems and with schools,” said Inslee of the comprehensive approach Washington state is taking to suicide prevention.
- Expanding on the theme that everyone plays a role in prevention, Forefront executive director Jennifer Stuber urged the audience to integrate the L.E.A.R.N. system of identifing warning signs and interventions into their daily lives, making it "as well-known and practiced as C.P.R. and the Heimlich maneuver." During the event, more than 250 signed up for L.E.A.R.N. by the evening’s end, with a request for training from the governor’s office and cabinet.
- Forefront community organizer and API Mental Health & Wellness Summit co-founder Brandon Hadi (UW 16’) spoke of feeling “numb, angry, guilty” after losing his friend to suicide 17 months ago—a turning point that changed his life course from being a physician to a career as a mental health counselor.
- Contrasting the hushed stigma of suicide against the highly visible, outspoken breast cancer campaign, radio talk show host Bill Radke spoke of losing his brother Brooks to suicide. “He died alone—he thought he was alone. My brother told himself a story that took over, a story about his worth.” Radke added that journalism needs to be part of the solution.
There wasn’t a dry eye during a viewing of “Full Circle,” a short film about the family of teen Brian Stephens, who died by suicide in 2009 with an unsecured firearm. His grandmother, community organizer Debbie Reisert, received a standing ovation as she came to the podium. “Seven years ago, I could never even have imagined this day. This work is hard—it requires a lot of partnership. I was lucky I had Forefront’s support.” When her advocacy work brought her to Olympia to testify before the legislature, she felt that for the first time, Brian had a voice. "The best moment is when I found out that Forefront will train the school that my grandson went to,” she concluded.
In an awards reception before the dinner, Forefront recognized five suicide prevention champions:
- House Speaker Frank Chopp (D–43rd District) accepted the first-time Legislator of the Year award for winning the support of both sides of the aisle in multiple legislative sessions and heralding bipartisan support for six suicide prevention bills.
- Rep. Tina Orwall (D–33rd District) presented the eponymous Tina Orwall Public Service Award to Debbie Reisert, praising Reisert's determination to "shine a spotlight on this problem in our society" by activating her community in Packwood and Greater Lewis County.
- “For many years we talked about [high rates of rural suicides],” said Rep. Brian Blake (D–Aberdeen), who received special recognition along with Sen. Joe Fain (R–Auburn). “We are losing too many people still. We have work to do—let’s work together.”
- Deborah Horne (pictured, right) accepted the Excellence in Coverage of Mental Health & Suicide Award for a KIRO News series on suicide, which included Monique Ming Laven’s "Pushing for Change" segment and Michelle Millman’s interview with Jennifer Stuber about Safer Homes bill and suicide myths. Sharing the emotional intensity of spending all day in Olympia to cover the mock cemetery on the Capitol's lawn to create awareness about suicide prevention, Horne said she’s driven to “spread the message of hope and the message that the end of one’s life can affect people.”
- Kate Comtois of UW accepted the Sue Eastgard Training Award for her devotion to high quality suicide prevention training in Collaborative Assessment and Management for Suicidality and Dialectical Behavior Therapy, thanking Forefront for "promoting suicide prevention awareness. All over the country, you have a big impact."
- Accepting the first-time Emerging Leader Award, Micia Vergara (UW ’17) spoke of discovering her passion for “breaking down the stigma of suicide” after moving to Seattle and becoming president last year of the Husky Suicide Prevention and Awareness outreach—a role for which she was known for bringing in therapy dogs, distributing thousands of stress reduction bags, and managing the Husky Help & Hope (H3) walk, which attracted a record 700 participants.
The Mark Torrance Foundation, The Jolene McCaw Family Foundation, the Barton Family, the Harry Brown family, Bruce and Barbara Wolff, friends and family of Matt Adler, friends and family of Ethan Smith, and the Forefront board provided a total of $60,000 in matching donations.
Contributions to Forefront's innovative efforts in suicide prevention can be made at the Forefront website.