When Will Rapid City’s Leadership Support Suicide Prevention Again and Restore Life-Saving Funding?

Friends and Loyal Supporters of the Front Porch Coalition and the L.O.S.S. Team:

It is with great discouragement and disappointment that once again members of our community chosen for leadership roles have decided not to continue to fund our organization and its efforts. After meeting with the Executive Director and two of the area United Way Board Presidents a couple weeks ago who told us they speak for all four United Way area boards, my staff and board of directors, along with our L.O.S.S. (Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors) Team Members and I are once again upset, to say the least. We also wish we did not have to come to our community of loyal supporters once again to ask for your assistance to make up for another financial shortfall.
We know that many of you will be upset like we are and may become concerned as to why again has this happened. When will most of this community prioritize the importance of suicide prevention and postvention support to suicide survivors? Does it have to affect you, and do you sadly have to lose someone to suicide to understand that not only is this program prevention by saving lives; it has a ripple effect like no other?

Apparently so, because we were told by United Way Executive Director and Board Presidents that in addition to reasons they chose to deny funding, their decision was not about the L.O.S.S Team Program. It was about the ‘bigger impact.’ The survivors on our board and all on our L.O.S.S. Team including myself take this personally and ask,

“Why isn’t our L.O.S.S. Team Program enough to be supported? Why isn’t saving lives a ‘big enough impact’ that is more important than data-driven numbers?”

Before I get into the details, I want to especially thank Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom for the financial support that he has provided since the Pennington County Commissioners chose not to provide us with funding. I want to thank his deputies and staff for entrusting us to work together to help struggling and traumatized family members who tell me,

“You saved my life that day.”
Or as the research states, they got help on average within 39 days because our L.O.S.S. Team was there versus 4.5 years later because no one was there.

I also want to especially thank Rapid City Police Chief Karl Jegeris and his officers, Box Elder Police Chief Jason Dubbs and his officers for their continued support and partnership, and the new law enforcement partnerships we are forging as we are expanding. Without all of you, these surviving family members and friends would not be getting help. Like one deputy said to me, “I’d probably be back at that home again which is my greatest fear when I ‘used to’ have to leave a family alone.”

These officers and the volunteers on our L.O.S.S. Team, those who do donate to our organization or volunteer in some capacity, are the real leaders in our community. They weren’t ‘chosen’ by someone else to do what they do. They ‘choose’ to help. Learn more about this life-saving prevention program, go to our website: http://www.frontporchcoalition.org/loss-team/.

Please take a few minutes to read what they told us was why our funding ended.

1) We are duplicating services — I was also told this to me by a Rapid City Councilman that this was a discussion by their committee when making funding recommendations. I asked the United Way Director and Board Presidents present at our recent meeting, “How can this organization duplicate a service it started sixteen years ago?” My staff and board members asked them if these other few agencies we are supposedly duplicating services also were asked if they are duplicating this service?” Sadly, and unfair, these other agencies did not get asked that. Only their data and larger ‘impact’ of total agency numbers served had been asked. As I replied, because those organizations provide a range of other services, they will have more data; therefore you will see what you think is a ‘bigger impact.’ We asked who else in any community in Western South Dakota and beyond is providing a L.O.S.S Team Program. That program was not their priority.

2) Board Members were not getting their questions clearly answered during agency presentations — Agencies have limited time to make presentations with five minutes for board member’s questions. At the end of every presentation, I always ended by saying, “If you have any more questions, please call or email me.” In the eight years that we were an agency, no board member ever contacted me or ever repeated their question at an agency presentation because they said they didn’t have their question answered. However, at our recent meeting, the United Way Executive Director told me they continued to ask questions. Did I miss something, because I was there for all but four of these presentations over the eight years? The Executive Director would only contact me with questions that were focused on data or the number of people we served. The past couple of years I have had to have someone fill in for me at a couple of board presentations because I have had so many other commitments. Our organization and the demands continue to grow. One of the reasons for this funding denial was due to multiple inquiries with our staff.

3) Inconsistencies in our data provided on our grant application — I do not know why for sure we were asked multiple times for this information when it is on the grant application. I can suspect it is because there are a couple other behavioral health agencies in the community that provide one suicide prevention training and Mental Health First Aid Training as we do. Keep in mind that is only a small number out of the dozen trainings that this organization provides. As funders do, their request for a breakdown of the number of people served by these trainings may have been requested to compare who served what and where, or which agency served more people with how much money given. However, oddly at our meeting when I offered to provide United Way with our complete spreadsheet of data, they did not state that they wanted to see that. Nor were we ever given a chance to explain as to why a misunderstanding occurred through email. Therefore, after our face-to-face meeting a couple of weeks ago, I provided their office with a complete copy of our data spreadsheet and a calculation as to the email misunderstanding. If confusion remains, it is not because we have not answered every question. Sadly, and unfairly, we were not given a chance to clear up the misunderstanding before being denied funding completely.

Unbelievable reasons not to fund a crisis response and prevention program that saves people’s lives. Like I told them, it remains a priority for me to help the family and friends of the drastically increasing number of people who have and still are dying by suicide this past year and a half. Unfortunately, I had come to learn that the reasons we did not receive funding are more than this and it was apparent when not all our questions were answered. Additionally, the Executive Director told us,

“Our meeting would clear up our concerns so that I would not have to contact any area Board Presidents anymore,” and after pausing a bit, she added, “unless you want to.”

I want to especially thank the board member who visited with me before this meeting. After talking with her and learning that this organization and I are not the only ones having these difficulties, I do not feel as though we were personally scrutinized, for some reason, even though what was stated in our denial letter and said in our meeting felt that as though we were. I am however offended by the fact that to this day no board member ever came to me with additional questions because as the Executive Director said to me, they did not understand the day-to-day operations of our organization. As I said to the Rapid City Council Members, please contact me with questions or spend a day with me so you can personally see the difficult dynamics of this organization. No one has ever taken me up on this. It is genuinely scaring me that this is the direction our community is taking, and these drastically increasing death rates are only going to grow until suicide prevention and postvention support to survivors is a true priority by all.

I also want to thank those in the community who have served on the United Way boards in prior years; the year we were added as an agency, supporting our mission and our work. Many of those individuals still support us financially and know the importance of what we do. They and all of you reading this, who donate and support our organization are the leaders in our community. I thank every one of you. Know that we will continue our efforts no matter who prioritizes that even one life saved is most important.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Schweitzer Dixon, Executive Director

On Behalf of the Front Porch Coalition Board of Directors and L.O.S.S. Team Members