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Mental health advocates speak out during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

The year is filled with plenty of celebratory and honorary months, but the month of September is a particularly somber one.

September is known as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and though the subject matter is heavy, the message is an important one: You are not alone.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September is a time used to raise awareness of the stigmatized and often taboo topic of suicide prevention.

The month is used to shift public perception, spread hope and share vital information to people affected by suicide, with the goal of making sure resources and help are available to anyone who needs it, according to the NAMI website.

A total of 45,979 people died by suicide in the United States in 2020, the equivalent of one death every 11 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That same year, there were 1,362 deaths by suicide in Illinois, the CDC reports.

In Kankakee County, deaths by suicide have totaled: 14 deaths so far in 2022; 10 deaths in 2021; 13 deaths in 2020; 19 deaths in 2019; four deaths in 2018; 19 deaths in 2017; and nine deaths in 2016, according to the Kankakee County Coroner’s office.

RAISING AWARENESS

Jake Smith, 25, of Manteno, recently walked 24 miles through the streets of Manteno to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.

The walk is now an annual tradition, as Sept. 3 marked Smith’s third straight year of completing it.

Each year, Smith has seen community support grow little by little, he said, ranging from people walking alongside him to honking their car horns or offering words of encouragement as he passes by.

Supporters Shaun Brav and Angelina Urban both completed the entire 24-mile trek with Smith this year and last. Daniel Gerber, Jason Rivera, Sylis Newman and Darrel Boren walked with the group as well.

Smith began in 2020 with the intent of walking 21 miles in honor of the age of the oldest suicide victim in Manteno; however, his tracking app took him on a 24-mile journey instead, and the tradition has stuck.

“This is personal for me,” Smith said. “I suffer from depression and anxiety myself, and I have learned that by speaking up and telling my story, others have been positively impacted by it.”

Smith said his struggles with depression and anxiety began as a young child in school.

The most important message he wants others to take away from his awareness walks is that they are not alone.

Though he felt exhausted at points along his walk and had doubts he would finish, Smith and company completed the walk in about eight hours. Including breaks, they were out for nine and a half hours.

Smith said he was motivated to keep going when remembering the struggles of people impacted by suicide, including those in Manteno.

Though he hasn’t known any suicide victims personally, it hits home when someone in his community decides to end their life, he said.

“It’s happened so many times, especially for Manteno being a small community,” he said.

THE SAM MYERS FOUNDATION

Brandon and Kathi Myers, the Manteno parents who founded the Samuel R. Myers Foundation for Suicide and Mental Health Awareness, spoke Friday during the Mental Health Network of Kankakee County’s monthly roundtable meeting in Riverside Hospital’s dining room.

The Myers’ son died by suicide at age 19 after struggling with mental health issues including anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

“When our son passed away in December of 2016, we decided we had two choices,” Brandon Myers said. “We could just kind of sit in our own depression, our own sorrow, and [deal] with it individually as a family, or we felt like we could step out and actually be a catalyst.”

Brandon said the foundation’s goals are to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, connect people with mental health resources and share their family’s story in the hopes that others don’t have to experience their pain.

Kathi Myers noted they were “an average family,” and she and her husband were always active in their children’s lives.

Some have the misconception that mental illness is always the result of being from an abusive family or a broken home, Kathi said.

However, that is simply not the case. Mental health problems can affect people from all walks of life.

“What we really want people to understand is that mental health just does not discriminate,” she said.

ASKING FOR HELP

Kathi shared that a classmate of Sam’s recently told her that Sam was the only person at school to check on her and offer comfort after she returned from a hospital stay due to mental health issues.

“That’s the kind of heart that Sam had, and I think it’s because he knew that feeling,” Kathi said. “He knew that feeling of not being OK and not being able to say, ‘I’m not OK,’ because he didn’t. He hid it from everybody.”

Kathi noted that Sam had seen multiple psychiatrists and counselors and tried several combinations of medications for his conditions.

She stressed that people should be open to seeing different counselors to find one they “match” and feel comfortable with.

“He truly felt like his brain was killing him. He would say, ‘I can’t live like this for 60 years. I’m not going to be able to do it,’” Kathi recalled about her son. “As parents, we regret that we didn’t know that those were all signs that he was headed that way, to suicide.”

Kathi said one of the most important things for people to remember is to speak up if they are having problems.

“If you don’t, nobody knows that you’re not OK,” she said. “Always make sure you reach out to someone if you’re not well, because nobody can help you if they don’t know you’re suffering.”


Local
Regional homeless solution sought

KANKAKEE — The weather is changing. The leaves are turning. The calendar is flipping.

But Dawn Broers, executive director of Fortitude Community Outreach, Kankakee County’s lone homeless shelter, is not budging.

In a Sunday message posted on the organization’s Facebook page, Broers made it clear she will not request a second year to operate the homeless shelter at the former St. Paul’s Lutheran School in downtown Kankakee.

Broers reasoned she simply cannot go back on the promise she made to the Kankakee City Council when it allowed her to operate the shelter at St. Paul’s for Fortitude’s 2021-22 shelter year.

However, that does not mean St. Paul’s is out of the question.

The Kankakee city administration and Fortitude are slated to have an 11 a.m. meeting today — with Mayor Chris Curtis, city planner Mike Hoffman, city economic and community development director Barbi Brewer-Watson, along with Broers and Fortitude board vice president Jack Tison — in an effort to find a regional solution to the homeless shelter situation.

And regional likely means that many municipalities will be part of the plan.

Brewer-Watson simply stated Monday that all sides are seeking a solution.

“We are focused on housing our more vulnerable residents,” Brewer-Watson said. “We are working toward a solution, a regional solution.”

Curtis was not available for comment.

In her Facebook post, Broers said going back on her pledge not to seek an additional year at the St. Paul’s site was not something she could do.

“I cannot risk becoming the person who breaks promises and commitments and I certainly don’t want that for Fortitude either. For that reason, it cannot be Fortitude that requests another year at St. Paul’s. Doing so would violate my professional, personal and spiritual values and ethics.”

Instead, it appears she is hoping the city changes its course. The city may change course, but only for the short term.

There may be an opportunity for the St. Paul’s site, at least as far as the city is concerned, if Fortitude has funding commitments to construct a new building in the 100 block of South Washington Avenue, as it had planned to do earlier this year.

Those construction plans became scrubbed when skyrocketing building material costs put construction financially out of reach. It was that factor which led Fortitude to seek a change of zoning request in August to operate its shelter on the south side Kankakee from the Kankakee Planning Board.

By a 6-2 vote, the planning board rejected the request needed to operate a shelter at the former United Faith Pentecostal Church, 1284 S. Fourth Ave.

“We are holding out hope that there is a way for the city, or aldermen, to request an extension of the one-year ordinance, OR that city leaders would publicly release Fortitude of the commitment made to them,” Broers wrote in the post.

Kankakee 2nd Ward Alderman David Baron, who represents the area which includes St. Paul’s, along with Alderman Mike O’Brien, said Fortitude must have a realistic long-range plan for a shelter before he would be willing to agree on an additional year on the downtown shelter.

“If there is an extension, they will have show they are ready to put shovels in the ground [at South Washington location],” O’Brien said. “This [homeless shelter] is a regional project. I would be in support if I can see financial support is in place to make that happen.”

Fourth Ward Alderman Lance Marczak, who represents the site on South Fourth Avenue where Fortitude was hoping to purchase and transform into its shelter program, added he would be in favor of an extension at St. Paul’s if a long-term plan is ready to be acted upon.

“It’s going to be getting cold. If the goal is to get people off the streets, then this may be the short-term option. I see the need for a shelter, but why is this always our [Kankakee’s] problem?” Marczak asked.

Broers noted the upcoming meeting with Curtis and other city leaders. She is anticipating a decision on the St. Paul’s site after the Sept. 19 Kankakee City Council meeting.

Because the Kankakee Planning Board is only a recommendation body when it comes to zoning issues, the city council must make the final decision.

Broers said the organization likely will not be ready to open by Oct. 1, but she added she has not given up hope that Fortitude could be ready by Nov. 1 at St. Paul’s.

“So we are currently in a bit of a waiting period. Many of you have reached out with support and asking how you can help and you are very appreciated! If you are a praying person, now is a good time to pray that this can be resolved in such a way [that] our integrity remains intact and that will allow us to open by November 1.”


Local
Kankakee schools assistant superintendent of curriculum resigns

KANKAKEE — Kankakee School District 111 is losing another top administrator with the resignation of Felice Hybert, assistant superintendent of curriculum.

Hybert, who has been with the district for seven years, submitted her resignation letter on Sept. 6. Her last day of work will be Sept. 20.

When contacted by the Daily Journal, Hybert said she was resigning for personal reasons and to take care of some family members.

“At this time, no, I do not have another job,” she said. “I’m really just leaving for some personal and some family reasons, just to be able to spend a little bit more time with my family at this point.”

Hybert added that she wanted to thank Superintendent Genevra Walters, the Kankakee School Board and the district staff she has worked with.

Walters, along with Shameka Fountain, assistant superintendent of human resources, will be taking on Hybert’s duties until an interim can be found to temporarily take over, Walters said.

The district will post for the position and look to hire someone for next school year, according to Walters.

The assistant superintendent of curriculum is in charge of leading all decisions related to student learning, Walters said.

This person has six directors, four learning partners and an innovation coordinator reporting to them.

District 111 is also down an assistant superintendent of business services, with Nicole Terrell-Smith having left the position to become superintendent of Pembroke School District this school year.

The day-to-day operations of Terrell-Smith’s position were divided among the five staff members in the business office, with Walters and Fountain stepping in as well.

The district also hired a financial consulting service in lieu of finding an immediate replacement for Terrell-Smith.

With Walters planning to retire in two years, she had said that her successor should be the one to hire the next assistant superintendent in the business office.


Local
Health department offering car seat inspections Sept. 23

KANKAKEE — An upcoming event offers the opportunity to check if young vehicle passengers are riding safely in the right seat.

Car seat inspections conducted by certified child passenger safety technicians will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 23, at the Kankakee County Health Department.

The inspections are part of the National Child Passenger Safety Week, Sept. 18-24.

No registration is required and drive-ups are welcome.

Attendees are advised to bring both their car seat and vehicle manual for the car seat inspection if possible.

The health department is at 2390 W. Station St., Kankakee.

For more information on how to safely secure children of different ages in car seats, visit facebook.com/kankakeehealth.


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