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Mikenna Vanek Project volunteers wave signs to raise suicide awareness at offramp of Interstate 205

On Saturday, Sept. 14, the Mikenna Vanek Project (MVP), a Clackamas County-based nonprofit organization dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention, waved signs next to one of the state's busiest off-ramps.

COURTESY PHOTO - Mikenna Vanek Project members and volunteers Genae Vanek (from left), Tabitha Williams, Gabrielle Vanek and Liberty McCarthy wave signs in Oregon City.For more than three hours, volunteers held up "Don't Give Up" signs and other inspiring COURTESY PHOTO - On Feb. 1, 2018, two young people from Clackamas County besides Mikenna Vanek ended their own lives.messages, such as "You Matter" and "Your Mistakes Don't Define You" and "One Day At a Time," at the off-ramp from I-205 into downtown Oregon City. They waved and smiled at cars, hoping to inspire a message of hope.

Gladstone resident Kora Vanek, the founder of MVP whose daughter died by suicide last year, wanted to give busy travelers a moment to pause and interrupt any negative thoughts. The Vanek family and friends, who this year achieved federal tax-exempt status for their MVP nonprofit, lost their daughter to mental health issues and suicide in February 2018.

"Everyone is important, and having mistakes or a bad day does not define you," Kora Vanek said.

Mikenna Vanek was a Clackamas Community College graduate with honors, a writer and artist whose mother reports "had a difficult time reaching out."

MVP's goal is to reduce the number of suicides in Oregon, encourage conversations with youth in the community, and provide education about suicide and mental health.

COURTESY PHOTO - State Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, joins Mikenna Vanek Project founder Kora Vanek on Sept. 14."The sign rally on Saturday was in honor of September Suicide Prevention Month and will continue yearly," Kora Vanek said. "The group then went on to plant signs around high schools and yards. There were even a few planted where some youth in our area have recently lost their battle with mental health."

MVP received rally-related messages on its Facebook page such as, "I really needed this today" and "I believe these can change lives." During the sign rally, many drivers smiled and people stopped to take pictures with the group. State Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, stopped by for conversation and a picture. Someone even bought the group doughnuts.

Mikenna was part of a disturbing trend among local young people losing their lives to suicide. On May 25, (Mikenna's birthday) participants in the inaugural Portland Hike for Hope event hiked a 3-mile loop in the Tryon Creek State Natural Area to raise money for suicide prevention, research and support for grieving families.

Clackamas County has a 16% higher rate of suicide than the national rate, so the county has been working to identify who is at risk and how to get them help. In 2013 and 2018, there were 11 youth suicides (ages 10-24).

MVP plans to have "Don't Give Up" signs available for people who contact the nonprofit. The group's idea is that people can place a sign in their yard for a week or two and then pass it on to a friend or neighbor to place in their yard.

The signs are purchased by MVP from another nonprofit, the Newberg-based Don't Give Up Movement, in bundles. People can donate to either nonprofit organization on their websites.

Need help?

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Lines for Life

YouthLine: 877-968-8491

Clackamas County's 24-hour crisis line: 503-655-8585

Senior loneliness line:

503-200-1633

More: MikennaVanekProject.org, dontgiveupsigns.com


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