Leadership can start at any age and a group of students at Nelson Island School in Toksook Bay teach us about the remarkable impact Youth can make. The school received the Outstanding International Survivors of Suicide Award for its International Survivors of Suicide (ISOS) Loss Day event it held last November. The yearly event encourages survivors of suicide to gather in locations around the world in order to promote healing and to connect with others with shared experiences.
“They come together and they talk through what the experience is and try to have a support system,” DeForrest Inman, a teacher at Nelson Island School.
Until 2013, Anchorage was the only community in Alaska to host an ISOS Loss Day event. A social worker for the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD), Jim Bilea, who sits on the Alaska Board of Suicide Prevention, approached the student government at Nelson Island School about hosting an ISOS Loss Day.
“He came in and asked if the student government would take and sponsor the first rural Alaska ISOS day,” said DeForrest. “The students said yes they would like to do that.”
The students knew the event needed to reflect their culture and the first step was translating the existing program and materials into Yup’ik. The event also featured yuraq, Yup’ik dancing.
“They took it and made it culturally relevant to here,” said DeForrest. “We wanted to make it ours. If we had done just what the ISOS had laid out in the basic plan, it wouldn’t have been any different. We are a very Yup’ik speaking community. We wanted to take our culture and apply it to our event.”
Making it culturally relevant was exactly what the school did and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recognized the event as the most unique in the world. The students were presented with an award but for them the award doesn’t matter as much as the feeling of knowing they are helping to spread the message of hope and prevention.