The Front Porch Coalition started as a small group of suicide survivors gathered around a kitchen table. Now, it’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting survivors, educating community members, and raising awareness of mental health needs in our community.

The Front Porch Coalition LOSS Team is a group of volunteers that works to support friends and family of a person who has died by suicide, also known as suicide survivors. Bridget Swier, the Director of Outreach and Communications for the Front Porch Coalition, says, “when there’s been a death by suicide, we’re dispatched by 911. It allows us to be on scene to support the family through difficult moments.” They follow up with the family for at least the first year, offering as much or as little support as the family requests. The Coalition also organizes an adult support group for survivors the fourth Saturday of every month. 

How to reach out

If you know someone that may be struggling, the hardest part can be knowing how or when to approach them. Common signs to watch out for include sleeping a lot, saying goodbye or ending friendships, and giving away their belongings, especially valuable or meaningful ones. But it’s important to know not every person will show the same signs, or any signs at all. Toni Speckman, the Front Porch Coalition’s Director, says, “It’s important to have conversations with your kids; driving in the vehicle with them is a great opportunity to discuss hard topics. Just check in with them and see if everything is okay.”

Having conversations about mental health and suicide help youth understand it’s okay to not be okay, or to say ‘I’m not doing well and I need some help.’ Talking about it helps them understand that there is no shame in struggling. We all struggle at some point in our lives, and it’s okay to ask for help.

Bridget Swier, Front Porch Coalition Director of Outreach and Communications

For anyone who’s afraid or doesn’t know how to start the conversation, Bridget says, “Just be very direct and ask them, ‘are you having thoughts of suicide?’ If you’re direct, you make it harder for them to avoid sharing what’s going on.” It’s difficult to do, but it could save a life. Bridget says, “it’s always better to reach out and find you’re a little off base than to not speak up until it’s too late.”

Looking to the Future

The Front Porch Coalition currently serves Pennington County and parts of Meade County. They hope to cover all the Black Hills in the next couple years, and eventually all of Western South Dakota.

Besides their outreach and support for suicide survivors, the Front Porch Coalition is working to build more resources in the Black Hills specifically for teens. In 2020 they started Defying Defeat, a program for youth under 18 who may be at risk of suicide. The group meets twice a month and introduces youth to positive activities in the Black Hills; previous outings have included pottery and equine therapy. They also provide a structured setting to discuss topics like anger management, emotional regulation, and teaching participants to love and accept themselves for who they truly are.

For now, their focus is to continue growing their volunteer base, help educate those who work with our area’s youth, and raise awareness of mental health issues in our community. While the Front Porch Coalition’s primary focus is supporting those affected by suicide, their doors are open to anyone who needs help. They work with many organizations around the Black Hills and will help in any way they can.

May is National Mental Health Awareness month, and the Front Porch Coalition organizes community events here in the Black Hills. To kick the month off, Front Porch Coalition hosts a “Chalk Your Walk” event, where they invited community members and organizations to decorate sidewalks with chalk art and positive messages of support. Black Hills Parent joined organizations like Lifeways, Wellfully, the Cave Collective, Fort Meade, and others in chalking up sidewalks around the area. It’s a great way to start a conversation about mental health in our communities, while letting those who struggle know they’re never alone.

Resources

Rapid City 24-hour Crisis Center: 605-391-4863

Front Porch Coalition: 605-348-6692

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Crisis Text Line: 741-741

WORDS: ASHLEY JOHNSON
PHOTOS: JESSE BROWN NELSON