By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
Students in Camanche are learning their most valuable lesson yet, the value of life, with a new program.
Teachers recently taught about the signs and adverse effects of suicide through a special presentation by the Yellow Ribbon program.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding suicide,” Brad Knutson, founder of the eastern Iowa chapter of the program, said. “We just want to raise awareness and do some part in helping prevent someone else from taking their own life.”
The city has addressed suicide in the community with the help of the Speak Out Against Suicide group and Bridgeview’s Teen Screen program. Residents have taken the pledge against suicide and found support for their grief through Speak Out and more than 90 Camanche Middle School seventh and eighth graders received permission from their parents to undergo the screening program to identify risk factors for the tragic problem.
Speak Out contacted Brad and wife Dawn to bring another significant program to students in Camanche.
Not many parents have such a deep understanding of the tragedy of suicide as do the Knutsons. About 13 years ago, the couple experienced the event first hand, when their son, Jeff, took his own life at the age of 16. The two felt compelled to help others and started the local Yellow Ribbon chapter in 2000.
Since then, they have given at least 500 presentations, going wherever they are needed, from Des Moines to Chicago.
“Any opportunity we get, we will go out and help free of charge,” Brad said. “We both have full-time jobs, but we are always willing to help in anyway we can.”
Through their video and presentation focused on the warning signs and the grief of those left behind, they have been able to reach out to groups of all ages and sizes, including Camanche High School and Camanche Middle School students.
“It’s so encouraging to hear back from people about how you’ve helped them,” Brad said. “At the end of the day it’s all about saving lives.”
The Yellow Ribbon program was founded in 1994 by the parents and friends of a teen in Colorado, Mike Emme, who took his life. This program is dedicated to preventing suicide and attempts by making suicide prevention accessible to everyone and removing barriers to help by empowering individuals and communities through leadership, awareness and education; and by collaborating and partnering with support networks to reduce stigma and help save lives, according to the organization’s website.
Local group Speak Out has also formed a support group called, “Let the Healing Begin,” with the first meeting from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Garner Hall in Camanche. This will be open to any and all people who have lost a loved one.
“Our community has suffered so much from suicide, cancer and tragic accidents, that we want to give everyone the opportunity to heal themselves and to help others in similar situations,” group leader Nicole Carber said.
So far the group has been able to help more than 30 individuals struggling with problems and the hope is to reach out to all who are in need of support and understanding.
“It’s not just for suicide, it’s for anyone dealing with problems,” group leader Amber Metzger said.