'The future is bright'; Battlefords Better Together project begins to help combat suicide

Grade 12 student Allysa Woodrow started the project after four of her friends committed suicide.

Grade 12 student Allysa Woodrow started the project after four friends committed suicide.

From left: Allysa Woodrow, Pastor Deb McNabb, and Emily Simon. Pastor Deb McNabb and Allysa Woodrow met after McNabb noticed Woodrow attending each youth funeral. The two have been meeting weekly since. (Submitted by Allysa Woodrow)

After a spate of suicides in early 2018, a new initiative in the Battlefords is bringing together people of different generations to build connections and combat loneliness.

The Better Together project was started by Grade 12 student Allysa Woodrow. People put on t-shirts with four different designs and go find someone in a matching to strike up a conversation. 

"At the beginning of 2018, we had eight people die by suicide in seven weeks and four out of the five youth that passed away were my friends," she said. "Our community was in complete shock."

She said the community was trying to help and that she thought she should contribute.

Of the eight people who took their own lives, five were under 22 and three were over 55.

"My goal was to connect the two bookend generations that were dying," she said.

The Better Together t-shirts have four different logos: ketchup and mustard, bacon and eggs, salt and pepper, and milk and cookies. (Submitted by Allysa Woodrow)

Woodrow worked with her mentor, Pastor Deb McNabb, who had officiated five of the eight funerals in early 2018. Through research the two noticed how communities were connecting youth and seniors.

"The seniors need the kids," McNabb said. "And the kids need the seniors."

McNabb and Woodrow received funding for the project through the Rising Youth Community Service Grant run by TakingITGlobal through the Canada Service Corps and Federal Government. As well, another Grade 12 student donated $2,500.

The project involves three senior manors, three classrooms of students and one hockey team. The youth and seniors meet every Tuesday. McNabb said it is also spreading to other families, schools and businesses.

The John Paul II Collegiate's Grade 12 French Immersion class is one of the three classrooms participating. At the first Together Tuesday, there were students and representatives from the seniors home to total around 100 people. (Submitted by Allysa Woodrow)

Woodrow said the first evening was held outside as the mayor of Battleford and mayor of North Battleford officially proclaimed 'Better Together Tuesdays'.

"When you see everyone together wearing their t-shirts, it just kind of made my heart warm," Woodrow said. "It's very heartwarming that the whole community is willing to participate."

Woodrow said one special moment was when the mother of her friend who died in Jan. 2018 came up to her at the event.

"She gave me the biggest hug and just told me that he would be super proud of me," Woodrow said. "That meant beyond words to me."

Pastor Deb McNabb said the mayors have dressed their entire councils in shirts and made a never been done two month proclamation. As well, she said the mayors said they want to continue the project throughout 2019. (Submitted by Allysa Woodrow)

McNabb said she thinks the movement will continue to grow.

"It's bigger than Allysa, it's bigger than us, it's bigger than the Battlefords," she said. "I think this is going to be a national movement."

"I am amazed," McNabb said. "Incredibly encouraged and my heart is lighter in a time that should be a deeper time of grief as we celebrate the one year anniversaries of all the losses."

"I've been walking a lot this year with people who are grieving deeply and this is a picture of hope for them," she said. "The future is bright."

With files from CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.