The story behind Canby's 'You are not alone' fliers
The community of Canby has this year suffered the devastating loss of three teen students by suicide—two in February and another in June. In response, a group of community members has formed a task force and is working to spread awareness and provide support for young people.
"It all came about back in February during that candlelight vigil that was held at Wait Park," said Traci Hensley, Canby councilor and member of the suicide task force. "Both of the boys that committed suicide that week were actually friends of my daughter. So standing there with her peer group at the vigil thinking, what could be done? I'm standing there, an elected official, very connected in the community, thinking, why can't we do something? What can we do?"
In February, Hensley joined forces with other members of the community for a meeting at the library, led by Joyce Ares; and now a steering committee is in place. Members include Hensley and Ares, plus Ray Keen of the Canby Center, Matt English from the fire district, Doug Poppin who is a retired juvenile officer and Hensley's daughter Hayden as the youth representative.
According to Hensley, the mission of the group is multi-faceted, and includes support groups, spreading awareness and potentially a dedicated program at the middle and high schools.
One support group is already in place for parents of teenagers. The group meets at Canby Bible College across from Canby Foursquare Church on the second Thursday of every month from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
The steering committee has recently worked to spread awareness by distributing fliers with the header, "You are not alone."
"We came out with this campaign so that people know that there is hope out there, there is help, there are people who care," Hensley said. "Kids who are at risk tend to feel very alone. So we want them to know that they're not alone—that there are adults and peers that care about them."
The steering committee has consulted with Galli Murray, Clackamas County's youth suicide prevention coordinator, who affirms that an important step in prevention is to have open conversations.
"Clackamas County has a 16 percent higher rate than the national rate of suicide. We have for over the past three decades," Murray said at a recent school board meeting in Molalla as they were preparing to offer mental health services in their district. "These are not new numbers. This is not new information. The difference is that we have to start being more intentional about this work. We have to start being intentional about having these conversations. We have to be intentional about getting people help earlier."
As the steering committee continues trying to form more support groups and spreading awareness, their current focus is working with the school district to hopefully bring a program to the high school (and potentially the middle school) called Sources of Strength. SOS is an already established, national program whose mission is: "to prevent suicide by increasing help seeking behaviors and promoting connections between peers and caring adults."
The steering committee will meet with the school district administration to make a plan for implementation of the program.
Aside from posting fliers at your place of business and engaging in one-on-one conversations, the community has the opportunity to help this effort in a different way.
Canby Rotary Club is inviting the community to attend their fourth annual fall fundraiser, the Tour de Italy, at Willamette Valley Country Club on Saturday, Oct. 13. This year, the funds will go to the suicide task force.
There are a number ways community members can support the fundraiser: be sponsor, donate auction items, sponsor a table or purchase a ticket and attend. For more information, to register to attend or to donate, go to canbyrotary.com where there is a link to the event page.