The Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition has been working since August 2012 to create a community involved task force to tackle the problem of suicide.

Volunteers include mental health specialists, educators, first responders, social service providers, parents and youth who are working together to assess the extent of the issue.

Laurel Shultz, program director at Communities in Schools of Peninsula, has been a long-standing member of this ad-hoc coalition.

“The challenge is getting someone trained in preventative care who is a direct service provider to youth on the Key Peninsula,” Shultz said.

According to Shultz, the challenge in finding a provider stems from the lack of mental health specialists in the community. She states that out of 59 members in the coalition, not one on the committee serves the Key Peninsula as a service provider.

Hired by the Peninsula School District, Sue Eastgard is the facilitator for this coalition. She describes the group as an organic network; forming subcommittees in order to carry out tasks which include marketing, grant writing and creating a widely accessible resource guide for community members.

In reference to the nature of the committee, Eastgard said, “it really does take a village” to make this all work toward a prudent solution.

Since the group’s inception, a range of training for youth as well as professionals has been made available to provide education on how to prevent suicides –– rather than respond once they have occurred.

The “Safe Talk” training is a three-hour class set to educate community members, with a focus on youth eager to help on identifying peers in trouble and what actions to take in response.

The coalition is currently focusing on facilitating a training session for professionals in order to increase qualified educators who can provide the Safe Talk awareness class. With an increase in qualified coordinators, this training can be available to a larger, more diverse population within the Key Peninsula community.

The materials for these courses are funded in a variety of ways. The most recent funding source was made possible by Kathy Weymiller, director at district initiatives for Peninsula School District, and Miri Sampson, community volunteer.

They recently completed a grant for The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and were awarded $1,500 to curb costs in order to make these trainings more accessible for up to 200 community members.

In addition to education, community volunteer Katy O’Neill led the way in creating a resource guide containing several service providers capable of advising community members in matters of suicide.

The guide is equipped with a list of questions aimed to help those interested with choosing a provider best suited for their needs.

For access to the mental health resource list, visit ghkpsuicidepreventioncoalition.weebly.com. The next meeting is 9 a.m., Feb. 27, at the Hope Center in Gig Harbor.

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