Funds to boost programs, services

More Central Alberta students will learn about suicide awareness and coping with negative emotions thanks to a $128,000 cash windfall from an “amazing” student-led fundraising effort.

More Central Alberta students will learn about suicide awareness and coping with negative emotions thanks to a $128,000 cash windfall from an “amazing” student-led fundraising effort.

Red Deer’s Suicide Information and Education Services expected to receive up to $40,000 from a March 18 Race For Your Life fundraiser held by graduating Notre Dame High School Students.

But the benefit exceeded expectations by raising more than three times that amount.

“These kids worked their butts off and put their hearts and souls into it and (the effort) is amazing,” said executive director Laura MacNeill.

Her organization will enhance school-age programs in the region as a result of the additional money raised by 39 participating Race for Your Life teams that had to come up with at least $2,500 in donations to enter the scavenger hunt/race.

The non-profit is extending work hours for a staff counsellor who gives free counselling sessions to troubled youths or families, as well as an education co-ordinator who goes into classrooms with presentations about handling fear, disappointment and loss, and speaking about suicidal thoughts.

MacNeill said the additional 45 hours a week shared between the two positions will mean that all schools between Nordegg, Consort, Wetaskiwin and Olds should get presentations at various grade levels.

Puppet shows about handling loss and disappointment will be performed for younger elementary students. Bullying and self-esteem is discussed with Grade 6-ers, while strategies for coping with stress and dating problems is introduced with middle school students.

MacNeill said that’s when the topic of suicide is also brought up. “They know quite a lot about it by Grade 6.”

Each of the school programs builds on the other, so she believes it’s important to reach students at various grade levels.

“It’s very exciting to be able to enhance what we’re doing,” said MacNeill.

But she stressed it’s also vital to maintain sustainability for the four-person organization that usually has to operate with $118,000 a year received from Alberta Health Services. “The big thing is that we want the money to last.”

Part of the additional revenue received from the student-led fundraiser will therefore go towards a sustainability fund to ensure that the enhanced programs offered by Suicide Information and Education Services can continue into the future.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com