2018 has proven to be an incredible year for The Kim Foundation. We surpassed every goal set, we’ve donated more dollars to local non-profit organizations than past years, we have a strong, cohesive team in place with a broader range throughout Nebraska than we’ve had, and most importantly, we’ve seen the area’s suicide deaths go down overall. We are extremely proud of these accomplishments, but none of this could be possible without each of our supporters, volunteers, and partners.
Our presentation program, A Voice for Hope & Healing, continues to grow each year. This year alone we gave 225 presentations and staffed 56 community outreach booths reaching more than 37,000 people! That’s worth saying again – 37,000 people! These presentations ranged from Las Vegas to Omaha, and many towns throughout western Nebraska. The majority were held in middle and high schools, but we also presented to universities, large corporations, services groups, church groups, parent groups, and more. This is a significant increase from our number reached in previous years, and I want to thank our staff for their commitment to doing these trainings, but also the community for your interest in learning more about mental health and the broader understanding of its importance in our community.
Through our partnership with Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare, we continued the Metro Area Suicide Prevention Coalition. This group was able to tackle many major initiatives and I want to thank all of the partnering school districts and organizations who made this possible. Here are some of our greatest accomplishments this year:
- Distributing 100 Nebraska State Suicide Prevention & Postvention Toolkits to area middle and high schools
- Increasing our efforts in means restriction by having key partners – including the Nebraska Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, the Crisis Text Line, Region 6 Behavioral Healthcare, and others – staff booths handing out gun locks and prescription lockboxes
- Posting prevention and hope signs on area bridges and parking garages
- Creating a resource and connection guide for schools and hospitals so there was a smooth transition for a student returning to school after a hospital stay
All of these efforts, as well as additional efforts by many organizations, helped to contribute to a lower number of suicide deaths in our community from 2017 to 2018. This is our greatest achievement of all, and we know it wouldn’t be true without a number of organizations coming together to save lives.
Some of the data we can share with you is comparative data from January 1 to November 30 looking at 2017 and 2018 (due to the calendar year of 2018 not being completed at the time of this article being released). While we feel that one death by suicide is one too many, and we know that much work remains to be done, we are encouraged that our local numbers seem to be going down, when the national outlook continues to show increasing trends in suicide deaths.
- In 2017, we lost 88 individuals in our community to suicide during this time frame. In 2018, we’ve lost 75.
- We’ve seen a decrease in youth suicide deaths in this same time frame by more than half, which is incredible!
- Unfortunately at the same time, we have seen an increase in the 20-29, 40-49, and 60-69 year olds.
The way that we view these numbers is that they help to provide a snapshot of our community trends, but again, one death is too many and no one is just a number. It is essential to the overall public health of our community to continue awareness efforts through education, intervention, and prevention strategies, leading to saving even more lives and helping to lead healthier lives for those in the Omaha metro area.
I am humbled by the work that I do and by the outpouring of support I’ve seen from the community over the last seven years in this role. I often joke and tell a story of when our founder, Larry Courtnage, approached me in my first year saying that we should start a “speaker’s bureau.” I looked at him and said something along the lines of, “But Larry, who are we going to speak to? No one wants this information. And who wants it from me?” He said, “Just give it a try.” And with our board members’ support and guidance, I struggled through that first year maybe reaching 10 presentations. I remember trying to get groups to let us come in and talk about mental health and being told time and time again that isn’t something they talked about. That isn’t something they needed. That isn’t something that affects our students and/or members. And now? Now, we can’t even keep up with the requests to share this information.
The shift that we have seen in our community to embrace the importance of mental health and suicide prevention awareness is encouraging. In a relatively short time of six to seven years to see this turn around to me illustrates a community that embraces the importance of mental health and suicide prevention, and one that understands we all play a role in helping others.
For whatever role you played in that, I thank you. Know that the foundation is committed to our mission and moving forward while continuing to spread a message of hope, healing, and connection until our community has grown even further in its role of acceptance and a whole system of care for all. Our hope is that one day we could report to you that we have lost no one this year to suicide and that everyone we came in contact with was able to connect to the right care at the right time. Thank you for your support as we continue to strive toward this.
I wish each and every one of you a wonderful holiday season. I hope you spend it surrounded by loved ones and friends and take some time to reflect on the blessings this past year brought, and also the hope that next year holds. Happy New Year!
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.