LONGVIEW, Wash. — The Cowlitz Chaplain's office serves to help those dealing with a crisis. Whether they are first responders or a family grieving after the death of a loved one, the chaplains offer emotional and spiritual care.
Paul Bricknell, Executive Director of the Cowlitz Chaplaincy, noticed a rising trend in deaths by suicide. He knew he had to do something to help get the word out to not give up.
Outside the office, written in black and white on a small sign, chaplains placed signs with the words "Don't Give Up" and "You Matter." A message of hope to anyone that drove by.
"I think the signs are a sign that encourages people to know that they're not alone and that there is hope and that there are people out there that care," Chaplain Mario Gambaro said.
Gambaro has been a chaplain for 10 years, helping those in crisis. A crisis he himself has gone through before. Two years ago, his son died by suicide.
"My son lost hope, became depressed and he went missing and he decided to just give up."
Around that same time, Gambaro came to the side of Jarl Peterson, a captain and paramedic with Vancouver Fire. Jarl's son Carver had died by suicide on September 22, 2017.
"He was a loving, caring, young man kind of coming into his own," Peterson said.
Carver was just starting his senior year at Kalama High School. Peterson said that he and his wife noticed changes in Carver's behavior, but couldn't figure it out. They sought help and thought maybe it was just a teenager going through hormones.
"It didn't really slap me in the face like it would've at work, so it wasn't quite as obvious," said Peterson.
Carver was one of 26 that died by suicide, according to the Cowlitz County Coroner's office. Over the last five years and through July of 2019, there have been 133 deaths by suicide in Cowlitz County. In 2016 there were 28, that's roughly 1 out of 3,800 in a county with a population of just over 100,000. It's roughly twice the amount Multnomah County experienced, which has a population eight times the size.
The chaplaincy found an artist to donate their time and paint "Don't Give Up" on the side of their building.
The messages are a part of the Don't Give Up Movement. A small nonprofit started in 2017 by Amy Wolff of Newberg.
"In May 2017 I had heard about the suicide rates in our community and specifically students and I was just mortified. This suffering is going on around me and thinking what can I do," Wolff said.
What originally started out as a plan to deliver 20 signs exploded into a bigger movement. The signs made their way across the country and soon she was getting requests for more.
"We just reached the milestone of over 10,000 yard signs. It's crazy," Wolff said.
Her signs have been placed all over the United States and in 26 countries.
They are an important message of hope to bring awareness to a growing problem.
Jarl Peterson says it's one that needs to be talked about.
"It's not a reflection on me as a father or us as a family or anything like that. It's an epidemic," he said.
Peterson has planned a walk to honor his son Carver. This is the second year he and the community have organized it. It takes place September 21 at 10 a.m. at Lake Sacajawea in Longview.
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lines for Life at 1-800-273-8255.
Breaking the Silence
This month, newsrooms across the state are highlighting the public health crisis of death by suicide. Our goal of “Breaking the Silence” is to not only put a spotlight on a problem that claimed the lives of more than 800 Oregonians last year, but also examine research into how prevention can and does work and offer our readers, listeners and viewers resources to help if they – or those they know – are in crisis.
More than 40 newsrooms contributed stories when the project first launched in April. This September media outlets are producing new stories in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month. When possible, we will promote each other’s stories, and all of them can be found on breakingthesilenceor.com