CEDAR FALLS — While students were beginning their school year and adjusting to new schedules last August, Cedar Falls High School senior Tehya Tournier had bigger issues on her mind.
For Tehya, mental illness, suicide and depression all seemed like topics that weren’t being addressed. A writer for her school newspaper, Tehya has covered topics of mental illness, but felt her reach could extend farther.
“I think that it’s such a hush-hush issue, not only in society, but in the Cedar Valley as well and especially among kids my age and young adults,” she said.
That’s when she took matters into her own hands and partnered with Troy Belmer from Alive & Running, an organization that began in 2010 by Belmer and friends of more than 30 years Randy and Ryan Nesbit, all originally of Dunkerton, who lost a good friend to suicide when they were 15.
Each year the group hosts a 5K run/walk to help raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention.
Together, they will host the Cedar Valley Prevention & Awareness event, “Let’s Start Talking,” from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Thursday at NewAldaya Lifescapes in Cedar Falls.
“The purpose of this is to show people are listening,” Tehya said. “I want people to know that they mean something.”
While her plans were in motion, Tehya and fellow Cedar Falls High School students lost a classmate to suicide.
“When that email was read by my teacher that day, it hurt my heart a lot,” Tehya said fighting back tears.
Through the years the loss of family members and friends has made a big impact on her life. That’s why she and her younger sister, Aaliyah, started a bake sale and lemonade stand at their home in 2009. After losing their grandfather to lung cancer, the sisters used their proceeds to donate to the American Cancer Society and later Alive & Running. The two-day event happens annually at the end of the school year and is promoted on Facebook.
“It started out as just those two and a card table and two chairs. Now it’s a big tent with a bunch of people,” said Tehya’s mother, Melanie Tournier.
The event has raised between $1,700 and $2,000 the last several years.
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As the years went on, Tehya said, other family friends had been touched by the loss of suicide.
“I wanted to be a voice for those who couldn’t speak up or felt that no one was listening,” she said.
Tehya’s family also joined Alive and Running’s Forever 21 team, which participates in the 5K run/walk every Father’s Day weekend. On the Friday before the event, members hold a remembrance for those who are no longer here.
Troy Belmer recalls he was 15 when he lost a good friend to suicide.
“It took until I was 30-something to decide to do something, so the fact that someone is willing to do something in their high school years I think is great and I think her direction is good that she wants to help other people, especially youth, know that there’s places to go, there’s support available,” Belmer said.
Katy Delagardelle, a licensed counselor in the Cedar Valley, and Anna Hicks, a freshman at University of Northern Iowa who has a family member who has struggled with suicide, will be guest speakers.
Belmer also will speak on what he’s learned over the years, including warning signs and places to go for help.
“Everyone can leave there with a piece of information, whether they’re 16 and struggling with depression or a parent leaving with signs to look for,” Tehya said. “I want the takeaway from this to be that we want to help people and we want people to walk away knowing they matter and people are listening. This is just the beginning.”
Belmer agreed and encourages parents to attend with their children.
There will be a time for questions afterward. The event is free, and everyone is welcome. For more information on the event, search for Alive & Running Iowa for Suicide Awareness & Prevention on Facebook.
The Alive & Running 5K will be held June 16 in Dunkerton, with remembrance ceremony June 15. Registration will begin in April. For more information, go to www.aliveandrunningiowa.com.