By Sherrie Norris
The 2018 State of the Child/State of the Community Forum is a couple of weeks away, and registration is now open and expected to fill up quickly.
Presented by the Watauga Compassionate Community Initiative, this year’s forum is set for Tuesday, April 17, 2018 from 8 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at Mt Vernon Baptist Church, located at 3505 Bamboo Road in Boone.
The event will serve to help a variety of community members address trauma and resiliency, as a follow-up to the 2107 State of the Child’s event introduction to becoming a trauma-informed community.
Providing the key note address for the forum will be award-winning global speaker, documentary filmmaker, and suicide prevention/mental health advocate Kevin Hines, author of bestseller “Cracked, Not Broken.”
While we might not readily recognize his name, we may recall the man who, in September 2000, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and lived to tell about it — attempting a method of suicide that has resulted in death for most of the 2,000 people who have made that jump since the bridge was erected in 1937.
Hines, one of only 36 to survive the jump, is the only one actively spreading the message around the globe of “living mentally healthy.”
According to his website, (kevinhinesstory.com) Hines has since “become the bridge” between the many mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, spouses, friends and loved ones of those individuals who succeeded at a similar act — each doing what they did to put an end to unimaginable suffering—and those left behind, wondering why? What could we have done to help?
In sharing his story, his website relates, Hines is fostering “a critical bridge” of hope between life and death for people caught in the pain of living with serious mental illness, difficult life circumstances, and more.
“His refreshing honesty, realism, advocacy and appreciation of the complex conditions that contribute to mental illness is a much-needed guiding like through the darkness of societal stigma and discrimination,” said Dr. Erica Goldblatt Hyatt, Assistant Professor
Chair of Psychology at Pennsylvania’s Bryn Athyn College. “I know that each and every one of you will take something away from hearing Kevin’s story. He has so many important messages to share about coping and seeking support networks to bolster us through crisis, in order to find the purpose, the meaning in surviving and thriving. In the words of Nietzsche: ‘He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’ I hope that hearing Kevin’s story helps you find your ‘why.’”
In 2016, Mental Health America awarded Hines its highest honor, The Clifford W. Beers Award, for his efforts to improve the lives of and attitudes toward people with mental illnesses.
Previously, Hines was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Council of Behavioral Health in partnership with Eli Lilly.
He has also been awarded by SAMSHA as a Voice Awards Fellow and Award Winner, an Achievement Winner by the US Veterans Affairs and received over 30 U.S. military excellence medals as a civilian.
Hines sits on the boards of the International Bipolar Foundation, the Bridge Rail Foundation and the Mental Health Association of San Francisco and on the Survivors Committee of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Previously, he was a board member of the Northern California Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and was a two-term member of San Francisco’s Mental Health Board. He has spoken in congressional hearings alongside Patrick Kennedy in support of The Mental Health Parity Bill. He continues his policy work as an ambassador to the National Council for Behavioral Health.
In the summer of 2013, Hines released “Cracked Not Broken, Surviving and Thriving After A Suicide Attempt.” He is currently producing a documentary entitled Suicide: The Ripple Effect.
Hines’ will to live and stay mentally well has inspired people worldwide. His compelling story has touched diverse, global audiences within colleges and universities, high schools, corporations, clergy, military, clinicians, health and medical communities, law enforcement organizations, and various industries. Thousands have communicated to Hines that his story helped save their lives. He has reached millions with his story.
His story was featured in the 2006 film The Bridge by the film director and producer Eric Steel.
Hines believes in the power of the human spirit and in the fact that you can find the ability to live mentally well. His mantra: “Life is a gift, that is why they call it the present. Cherish it always.”
Opening the forum will be Shelly Klutz, Lead School Nurse for Watauga County Schools, who knows firsthand the effects of trauma.
Klutz is a mother and grandmother who witnessed the suicide of her husband, despite her efforts to stop it from occurring. Through months of enduring the stigma and the pain of loss, as well as the diagnosis of post- traumatic stress disorder that ensued, Klutz learned to cope as a survivor with the help of a great support system and rigorous therapy. She hopes that, in sharing her story, others will realize they, too, can pick up the pieces and begin to heal, one step at a time.
Despite her earlier clinical training designed to help students deal with mental health issues, it wasn’t until Oct 3, 2014 —when Klutz witnessed her husband commit suicide — that everything she had learned became a reality to her. Trying unsuccessfully to stop the act was devastating, in itself, Klutz said, but trying to deal with the grief, and the stigma that accompanied it, was all consuming.
In May 2015, she developed flashbacks and panic attacks that lasted longer than expected, and was diagnosed with PTSD; working with her own personal physician, Dr. Tim Dailey, “who is amazing,” she said, Klutz was referred to another physician who was able to help her, eventually, through specialized trauma therapy, which she will explain during her presentation.
Her own experience has strengthened her in many ways and helps tremendously in her day-to-day interaction with high school students who are struggling to make sense of some of life’s most difficult questions.
“My speech will be about being resilient,” she said. “I want people to see that it’s not just one thing that helps with PTSD – not just therapy, not just medication, not just your faith – it is a mixture of things, a collaboration of different things. For me, it was my faith and my support system, which is lots of different people, including my parents, my siblings, my children, my grandchildren, my coworkers, my friends — a lot of people. And again, it’s the therapy and getting the right therapist, someone that’s right for you.”
Klutz wants people (who may be contemplating suicide) to realize that families are not better off — “but that we are worse off without them.”
She described her late husband, Matt, as “an amazing man who I miss so much.”
Klutz knows that she has to be strong and carry on, not just for herself, she said, but also for her children, her grandchildren and for her students.
“Until I went through it myself, and saw what happens, I don’t think I ever really ‘got it’ or understood it,” she explained. “But now, when I have students come to me who need help, I feel that I am better equipped. I am able to share with them. I am open with them. I let them know that I get it, that they don’t have to explain. It’s a safe place, I am a safe person for them. They know they can trust me, that they can come to me. I won’t judge them.”
More about the WCCI
As a result of the local movement to become a “trauma and resiliency informed community,” the WCCI was created on the heels of the 2017 State of the Child Forum “in an effort to ensure the momentum would continue,” said Denise Presnell, organization chair and social worker for Watauga County Schools.
She described the WCCI as the steering committee (with targeted sub-committees) that meets monthly to assist, support, educate and engage with Watauga County and its members in becoming trauma-informed.
Working to increase the connection between health care providers, law enforcement, educational systems, and children, youth and family service providers is paramount to the overarching goal of WCCI, which, Presnell said, “is making Watauga County a place where residents feel safe, protected, strengthened, cared for and nurtured.
According to its mission statement, WCCI recognizes that trauma, crisis and toxic stress can increase the probabilities or many co-occuring conditions, such as alcoholism, heart disease, depression, high risk sexual behavior, illicit drug use, domestic violence, liver disease, and obesity. WCCI also recognizes that the counterbalance of trauma is resiliency, which is the ability of an individual to withstand and rebound from stress.
“We plan to continue to bring awareness and education on trauma and resiliency — and their effects on growth and success — to our county residents,” Presnell added. “We will continue to lobby for best practices by providers and supports for children, individuals and families. We plan to encourage providers to practice self-care as a matter of routine, so they can be their best selves for not only their clients, but also their families and loved ones — and for their own well-being.”
With word of the organization’s success spreading quickly, WCCI has begun drawing attention from other towns and counties across the state for information and assistance in forming their own groups; its members have been working closely with the media, as well as with neighboring schools and agencies in an effort to increase community awareness and help them become trauma-informed.
“What we are doing here makes our work easier to do in our regular jobs,” said Presnell.
Those attending the upcoming forum will have the opportunity to witness WCCI’s work in progress. In addition to hearing from the organization and its special guest speakers, participants will be able to choose from a variety of breakout sessions regarding resiliency and trauma from a list made available prior to the event.
Seating is limited to 325 and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Cost of the event is $10 which covers lunch, provided by Dan’l Boone Inn.
Partnering sponsors for the event include: High Country United Way, Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Community Sponsors are: Appalachian Regional Healthcare System, Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services, Blue Mountain Center, Boone Service League, Boone United Methodist Church, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Mountain Alliance, The Children’s Council, Watauga County Collaborative/Local Interagency Coordinating Council, Watauga County Schools, and Western Youth Network.
To register, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/state-of-the-childcommunity-forum-tickets-43053653637
For more information, contact Denise Presnell at presnelld