December 07, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Lake Orion has learned it may indeed take a village, or the entire township, to raise our children safely and convince them how precious living can be.
Community organizations are joining forces with county health professionals, local school officials and others in an unprecedented effort to help the public recognize and help at-risk youth and other persons who may be contemplating suicide.
They are inviting residents of Lake Orion to attend a special community forum on the tragedies that have impacted so many people in the area in recent years. The event takes place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12, in the St. Joseph Catholic School gymnasium, located at 703 N. Lapeer Road.
The meeting was organized by Lake Orion Community Schools, the Oakland County Health Department, North Oakland Community Coalition (NOCC) and Common Ground, the local non-profit organization that helps youth, adults and families deal with crisis situations. Representatives from Common Ground will discuss the warning signs that typically precipitate the decision to end one's life, schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said.
Oakland County, village and township officials, as well as local law enforcement representatives, also will be in attendance. Leaders from various churches and community organizations like MINDS and 1,000 Conversations also are expected to be at the forum.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, increasingly concerned with the string of suicides impacting Lake Orion over the past several years including three young adults from the area over the past month, pledged the county's full support.
NOCC Director Julie Brenner is outspoken in her opinion that a more proactive approach to addressing the situation is long overdue. "Lake Orion, like most communities, is reactive – when a tragedy strikes people try to do something," she said. "This is a very encouraging first step in aggressively tackling the situation."
Brenner stressed the community forum is not just a one-time event. "The Coalition and Oakland County Health Department are working together to develop a long-term action plan to educate our community, in hope of preventing suicides," she said. "We're just partnering with the schools and Common Ground to roll it out on Dec. 12."
Ginopolis said the district is trying to model the approach taken earlier this fall by the Farmington Public School District, which assembled its own suicide prevention task force and held a similar town hall meeting.
"Lake Orion schools are involved, but this situation really needs to be addressed by the entire community," she said. "The reality is suicides rise during this time of year around the holidays. We're trying to be more proactive and address the issues that result in such decisions. Common Ground will be discussing these at the meeting."
Jerry Narsh, chief of the Lake Orion Police Department, said he appreciates the school district's initiative to organize the Dec. 12 forum, but also stressed this is a community crisis that needs a community response.
"We need to bring together educators, law enforcement, substance abuse and mental health professionals, business leaders and the public to develop steps to recognize high-risk individuals that really work," he said.
Narsh envisions the formation of a "toolbox" of steps and resources for various sectors of our community to use in working with troubled persons.
"Local businesses, for example, will have the means to recognize a high-risk employee and provide them with the assistance to get help for that person. I see a similar set of tools coming together for use in our middle schools and high school."
Some people in Lake Orion think such a community-based approach to addressing mental health issues, including suicide, is a great idea, but maybe should have come sooner.
"There are a lot of people who feel lost, not just the young people, in our community," said resident Mindie Wolvin. "If we can't figure this out, we're gonna be in big trouble."
For more information on the forum, contact Lisa Turbeville at Common Ground, 248-451-2610.