OSWEGO — Visitors to downtown Oswego this week will be greeted by an annual tradition of spreading positive messages and inspiring hope in anticipation of one of the year’s largest mental health awareness events.

Signs with inspirational and affirmative phrases were posted over the weekend by volunteers of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) central New York chapter throughout the Port City on telephone and lamp poles. The group works year-round to promote suicide prevention and mental health awareness, but these upcoming weeks are some of their most visible and meaningful.

Hundreds of suicide prevention advocacy leaders, volunteers and suicide survivors will gather at SUNY Oswego next Saturday, Sept. 21 to honor those lost to what medical authorities have labeled the second-leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults.

This year’s Strides to SAVE Lives march will help bring community members together to spread a message of “we can prevent suicide and make a difference together,” according to officials.

“This is truly a beautiful event and we hope everyone can come out — even if you have not lost someone to suicide — to simply send a message to everyone in the community that together we can prevent suicide,” said event founder and SAVE CNY organizer Jamie Leszczynski.

Now in its ninth year, Stride to SAVE Lives will start at the SUNY Oswego Marano Campus Center food court at 9 a.m. and will feature local musicians, keynote speakers and informational booths from local health organizations and advocacy groups.

“Events like these are about reducing the stigma surrounding an issue,” said Tyler Ahart from the Oswego County Prevention Coalition. The organization is planning to staff a booth at the event to inform attendees of the importance of substance abuse prevention and how that pertains to suicide prevention.

“When you bring awareness to subjects that can be difficult to talk about, it can help those who may be suffering feel less isolated, allowing them to get the help and support they deserve,” Ahart added.

For advocates such as Leszczynski, the event has special significance every year.

Leszczynski lost her brother Ryan to suicide 18 years ago, which she said has propelled her to draw from her experience and help families prevent potential tragedies.

“There is not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think of him and wish I could have done things differently,” she said. “It has taken me 18 years to realize that I can’t change the past and what happened. Instead, through my work with SAVE, in some ways I’m keeping Ryan’s memory alive. My goal is to just help one more family not experience the tragedy that we did.”

Reflecting on her experience with SAVE, Leszczynski said an open conversation surrounding mental health is paramount for communities looking to mitigate the number of self-harm casualties.  

“Realize there are people struggling and to not be afraid to discuss it,” she suggested. “You don’t have to be a psychologist to ask someone how they’re doing. Just be a good listener and if needed, be ready to help them seek help.”

Cordial engagements such as words of encouragement, compliments and smiles could also make a difference, Leszczynski added.

“We’ve all heard that a few kind words can make someone’s day,” she continued. “It’s so true. I challenge everyone that when they see a stranger or anyone they encounter to simply give them a smile, compliment their attire or just make a slight gesture like opening the door. Those little acts of kindness could keep someone here just one more day.”

For information on registration and donations, the organization can be reached at:

https://save.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=747

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