Wyoming family helping others avoid their pain
Sean and Katie Haines plan Aug. 25 event in memory of their daughter who committed suicide
Suicide claimed the life of a local teen in December. This month, her family will sponsor an event aimed to prevent such tragedies.
Stomp Out Suicide, a 5K run/walk for awareness, will take place Saturday, Aug. 25 in memory of Alissa M. Haines.
“The subject of suicide in general is kind of a taboo subject,” says Katie Haines, Alissa’s mother. “We just don’t want it to be that way any more. We want to get it out there. It’s not going away. It needs to be talked about and addressed.”
The passing of Alissa on Dec. 29, 2011 did not align with commonly held notions of suicide. The Wyoming teen seemed to have a stable and successful life.
“She was the popular girl, she had lots of friends, she was a straight-A student,” Katie says. “It was very unexpected.”
Typical warning signs were simply not present. Katie and her husband, Sean, saw a ninth-grader who was a “sponge” for music and a fantastic sister to Jake, 7.
“Great big sister,” Sean said. “They’d play all day. She was 15 and she’d play all day with her little brother. She was a great kid.”
That Alissa’s suicide seemed to come out of nowhere made it all the more difficult, but the response from the community made a lasting impact with the Haineses. Several hundred filled Chisago Lakes Evangelical Lutheran Church for her funeral on Jan. 4.
“It was amazing, and the outpouring that came afterwards… From students, we got e-mails and e-mails about how Alissa had helped them through problems and directed them away from some bad choices they were making,” Sean says.
Finding a Purpose
As the family started its life-long journey towards healing, realizations about suicide began to take shape.
“A lot of people think that she must have been kind of a dark person,” Katie says. “It’s not always that scary kid or that darker kid that you think. [It can be] teen pressures and the need to be perfect and the need to be on top of things.”
While in the initial stages of grieving, those affected by a loved one’s suicide often overlook their own needs.
“It’s hard,” says Sean, a Wyoming native. “As a family like us when we first went through it, where do you go? You don’t know where to go. How do you know? How do you heal?”
Relatives put Sean and Katie in touch with support organizations, including Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), a national non-profit based out of Bloomington. They also became familiar with several smaller groups in the area.
It took only a month for Sean and Katie to decide that they would use their loss for the gain of others. They formed their own organization, which shares the name of the upcoming event, Stomp Out Suicide. They plan to connect with like-minded groups and work with school districts and local communities to increase the outreach to teens and young adults regarding suicide prevention.
“We’re not counselors, we just are hopefully that go-through group that can direct people to get on that team level and let them become comfortable to talk to us so we can get them the help they need,” Sean says.
A business owner, Sean cut his workload by about half, and Katie, who works for Forest Lake Schools, took this summer off as they prepared for the 5K and built up Stomp Out Suicide. Actively supporting a cause has proved to be healthy and has given the family a host of new friends.
“I think it’s a good outlet for us,” Katie says.
Sometimes, though, the Haineses say, it would be easier to be on the sidelines. Their work is a constant reminder of Alissa.
Their efforts hit a crossroads a couple of months along when a local girl who had reached out to them for help suddenly stopped communicating. Sean and Katie were scared and second-guessed what they were doing.
“This girl stopped talking to us; for about a week she kind of disappeared,” Sean says. “Then we all got e-mails from her thanking us for saving her life. It made us realize this is what we need to do.”
The run/walk on Aug. 25th will be the first in what is designed to be an ongoing series of fundraisers put on by Stomp Out Suicide. The Haineses see the 5K as an annual event, and they are planning other initiatives such as concerts and dinners throughout the year.
Upwards of 400 participants are expected for the walk/run, which begins at 10 a.m. at Goodview Park in Wyoming. Registrations made by Aug. 11 are $25 for adults and $15 for those under 16. After this Saturday, the cost is $35 and $20.
Register online at http://bit.ly/stompoutsuicide or at the park on the day of the event. For more information, see Facebook.com/StompOutSuicide.
Proceeds will go to SAVE, the group the Haineses themselves turned to for help. SAVE will in turn work with local schools and the Suicide Prevention Collaborative, a community-based group dedicated to preventing teen suicide in the eastern Twin Cities metro area.
The walk/run is just part of the festivities planned for a day centered around having fun and creating hope. (“It needs to be a happy event,” Sean says.) Other highlights include a raffle with thousands of dollars’ worth in prizes, inflatables and other kids’ activities, and a performance by the band Sleeper and the Sleepless. Prizes will go to the individual and team that raises the most money and to the team with the most members.
Interest has been strong, and the Haineses expect a large contingent of others who have been affected by suicide, including acquaintances whom they never knew were in the same boat as them. The family is looking forward to the event, even while expecting to shed some tears.
“I think it will be a good place to be for knowing that we’re doing something and not just kind of sitting back and letting things happen,” Katie says. “Getting up and speaking on why we started this in the first place – that aspect will be a little bit harder. I think, all in all, it will be a good thing.”