Greenwood Community High School juniors Ava Smith and Lilli Vaziri are proving the adage true that anyone can be the change you want to see in the world. Their suicide prevention awareness campaign has raised over $4,000 to date and led to a community fundraiser set for 7 p.m. Saturday, October 22, at Greenwood High School football stadium.
The event, “Light in the Darkness Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness Walk,” will include opening remarks by Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers.
“We want to touch just one person’s heart. We have gone through our own mental health struggles, and we want people to know they are not alone,” Smith said.
Smith and Vaziri began their campaign in early September. Smith opened an email from Greenwood guidance counselor Tanya Fenner about suicide prevention month, in part, to relieve teenage boredom. Her boredom soon turned to excitement. Smith learned about a walk in Indianapolis sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She hatched an idea to enter the walk. She shared her idea with her friend, Lilli, and they set out to raise money from family and friends.
Smith and Vaziri told their Greenwood strength and conditioning coach Jerrod Watson about the walk, who posted it on his social media account. Within an hour, their fundraising page reached $200.
“Lilli and I were jumping with excitement,” Smith said. “We wanted to get a lot of people to join in. Our school principal sent an email to parents who started to donate, and we reached $2,000 within eight hours. We were amazed so many people were supporting us.”
Smith said an adrenaline rush spurred she and Vaziri to propose their next idea – a community mental health awareness walk. Greenwood High School Principal Michael Gasaway was all for it, and they began to organize the event. Smith and Vaziri chose to hold the walk toward dusk as a symbolic way to depict coming through struggles. Glow sticks and lanterns will help drive home the message, too.
Greenwood businesses, along with the Greenwood Police Department, have stepped up to support the walk by posting informative fliers and providing in-kind donations.
The girls even have a QR code and a link available to accept donations from those who can’t attend the event. Readers can donate by following this link https://supporting.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=2667224
The donation page will remain live through December. The girls and their guidance counselor also will continue their awareness efforts by forming a mental health club at the school and having teachers volunteer to do occasional check ins with students to see if they are doing okay.
“This is about people caring for other people,” Smith said. “We are going through this life together, and we need to work together to address this crisis.”