Five Baylor Students Raising Awareness Of Suicide Prevention On 4,500-Mile Bike Trek From Texas To Alaska
Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275
Five Baylor University students, who created a group called the Alive Campaign after a close friend confessed a suicide attempt, are making good on their promise to him - and to more than 277,000 Facebook friends - as they ride 4,500 miles over 83 days from Waco, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
After their friend's stunning disclosure over dinner last November, the Baylor students - Justin Brown of El Paso, Alyson Erikson of San Antonio, Kyle Ferguson of Schertz, Nathan Lloyd of Itasca and Andi Nakasone of Okinawa, Japan - vowed to bring attention to efforts to prevent suicide, the third-leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24.
Starting with a simple Facebook group called Four Guys, One Destination, One Mission: Suicide Prevention, the students promised their friend that if they could get 250,000 people to join their online group, they would do something "crazy" - like bike ride over the summer from Texas to Alaska - to bring awareness to one of the last "taboo" subjects in society and give their friend hope and a reason to live.
The group started with 100 friends at 8:20 p.m. on Nov. 4, 2007.
Remarkably - less than two weeks later - they hit 250,000 friends at 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 17.
Today, the group currently stands at more than 277,000 members.
The Alive Campaign team embarked upon its adventure on May 15, heading out from the Baylor campus in Waco on a journey that will take them through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Yukon Territory and eventually Alaska, all to show that "what society needs is not to be told how to die but shown how to live," said Justin Brown, a Baylor senior and one of the co-founders of the Alive Campaign.
"We are the richest country in the world, but studies have shown we are the saddest and most depressed. We are lonely with our riches, following the American Dream. Go to school, get a job, get married, have kids and repeat. The illusion that our lives have limits causes our massive dependency on drugs, materialism and lusts. We are a society with nothing new to give. This trek, this adventure to Alaska is to prove that humans don't have limits. You can do anything you set your mind to. Who says you need to go to college to be happy, who made it the law that you need to be rich? He was telling us that he had nothing to live for, so we gave him something to live for," Brown said.
Brown said the Alive Campaign has made it a priority to contact churches, schools, colleges and universities in each city to share information about suicide awareness. Their ultimate goal is to establish a university chapter system to foster a peer support community and to continue spreading awareness and education locally, especially among high school and college campuses.
So far, they have brought their message to Coryell Community Church in Gatesville, Howard Payne University in Brownwood, and South Pointe Church and New Hope Assembly of God Church, both in Abilene.
Along the way, the team - led by Baylor film and digital media majors Erikson and Nakasone - will film a documentary on the power of friendship, adventure and the stories of those who have battled depression and suicide.
On their journey, the students will be camping or staying with friends and family. Baylor alumni also have been contacted by the Baylor Network to provide a place for the team to rest and recharge during their long adventure.
Early in the process of organizing the Alive Campaign, the students worked closely with Dr. Susan Matlock-Hetzel, staff psychologist at the Baylor Counseling Center. Through their friend's experience, they learned more about the prevalence of suicide and the importance of help-seeking and vowed to share this knowledge with other young people.
"They took it upon themselves to learn as much as they could about the topic of suicide in order to be better informed advocates for those who had no champion," Matlock-Hetzel said. "As they increased their knowledge, where others would have been overwhelmed with the enormity of the issue, these young leaders only became more inspired to make a significant contribution in giving hope to the hopeless."
The students have taken Baylor's QPR Certified Gatekeeper Training Course on suicide prevention. QPR stands for "Question, Persuade, and Refer:" how to Question someone about their suicidal thoughts, communications, or behaviors, how to Persuade someone to stay alive and get help, and how and where to Refer someone at-risk to the next level of intervention.
On March 11, the Alive Campaign made a national appearance on mtvU, as they hosted the music video show, "Dean's List," and spoke about suicide prevention. The show can be accessed at: http://www.mtvu.com/video/?id=1583108&vid=215219. They will host the "Dean's List" again, filming their segment this summer while on the road.
On May 13, the Alive Campaign also received national recognition, when the Jed Foundation, the nation's leading organization working to prevent suicide and improve the mental health of college students, awarded the Baylor students with the 2008 Jerry Greenspan Student Voice of Mental Health Award, which includes a $2,000 scholarship.
The Jed Foundation established the annual award to recognize students who are using their time, talents and voices to help increase awareness about mental health issues, decrease stigma around these conditions and encourage help-seeking in the college population. The award was created through a contribution made by Carol Ullman and the late Joseph Greenspan, in memory of their son, Jerry Greenspan.
"We are proud to announce that the 2008 award has been presented to a group of students from Baylor University who started a national awareness program called the Alive Campaign," the foundation stated. "For their tireless commitment, adventurous spirit and national impact on college mental health and suicide prevention, we congratulate the Alive Campaign on their efforts."
More information on the award can be found at www.ulifeline.org.