OSWEGO – Trying to turn a heartbreaking tragedy into something positive can be a daunting task. However, it is exactly what one local woman has spent the last several years doing.
And, Jamie Leszcyznski is not about to stop.
The Suicide Awareness Voices of Education’s (SAVE) “Stride to Save Lives” is an event whose focus is to raise awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. Leszcyznski is chair of the event.
It is scheduled for Saturday, September 21, at SUNY Oswego; it will take place in the quad outside the campus center as well as in the food court of the campus center.
For Leszcyznski, the crusade is personal.
“Seventeen years ago, I lost my brother to suicide and I started this event to not only raise awareness for suicide prevention, but to give other suicide survivors a sense of hope,” Leszczynski told Oswego County Today.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Ryan. I am constantly reminded of him even though it’s been 17 years since he passed. This is a loss that my family may never overcome. He touched so many peoples’ lives it’s so sad that he didn’t realize how important he was to so many people and how much he would be missed,” Leszczynski said.
“I have really tried to take the loss of my brother and turn it into something positive for our community,” she continued. “I started a local committee for the organization Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. There are six of us and we meet on a monthly basis not only to plan an annual 5K Run/Walk but also as therapy. Each of us has been touched by suicide in some way so it’s kind of like our own support group.”
For nearly a decade, she has worked with the close group of others who lost someone to suicide to plan a community walk to raise awareness. A cadre of volunteers assists with the annual event.
“At the time, we didn’t see any warning signs. Ryan was a very happy, outgoing person. That’s why it came to such a shock to us,” Leszczynski said. “He was trying to reach out in some capacity for help. He gave away his fav guitar, said goodbye to some of his friends. Although in the moment, no one thought anything of it.”
For anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or harming themselves, Leszczynski urges them to “please call us 1-888-511-SAVE (7283) or you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) 24 hours a day / seven days a week; www.save.org is another amazing great resource for help too that I would strongly encourage people to visit.”
She realizes she can’t save everyone.
“But, if I can help one family from having to go through what we did, than it’s so worth it,” she said. “Our committee is an open group. If anyone is interested in helping us plan our event or just wants to get involved they can email [email protected]”
The keynote speaker at this year’s SAVE event will be Executive Director of SAVE, Dr. Dan Reidenberg.
Participants are invited to raise funds for their efforts. Proceeds raised will benefit SAVE.
Registration for the event begins at 9 a.m. with the event kicking off at 11 a.m.
The event is free and open to anyone who would like to participate.
The most important message Leszczynski hopes people take away from the event? Talk. Listen.
“If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or just need help, please, please, please talk to someone. Help is out there. Take two steps back. No one knows the pain you are personally going through – but no one will or no one can help make that pain go away – unless you talk!” she said.
If you know of someone that is having a rough day or simply not appearing like themselves, offer help, she added.
“Listen to them, pay attention to the signs. Extending a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on could mean saving someone’s life,” she said. “No one likes to talk about suicide or think it could happen to their family or loved one. I certainly never thought my brother would take his own life, but he did and by me sharing my story I just hope that people will listen. Right now, more than ever, we need to spread positivity and hope in the world. Too many people are deciding to take their own life and we just need to make it stop.”
Recently, she received Common Council permission to line Bridge Street with signs featuring positive messages. The signs will be on display through September 22.
“The goal is to make someone smile. A simple act of kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life,” she said.
At this week’s council meeting, Mayor Billy Barlow presented Leszczynski with a proclamation designating Suicide Prevention Day in Oswego and recognizing her for her efforts.
“It’s such a dark place. We’re encouraging people to talk because there is such a stigma about suicide,” she told the council. “Everyone has a bad day. We all go home with too much stress sometimes. A simple gesture, some kind words, opening the door for a stranger can make all the difference.”
Suicide is a national public health crisis, Mayor Barlow said.
It can happen to anyone.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34-year-olds and the third leading cause of death for 35 to 44-year-olds, he said.
SAVE works to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and serves as a resource to those touched by suicide.
To learn more about SAVE, visit www.save.org or call 952-946-7998.
For local details, contact Leszczynski, 315-523-1154