Following a mental health roundtable in February that brought together businesses, ministers, legislators, WITC, Westfields Hospital and the New Richmond School District, the idea for a community-wide initiative that would educate and provide more discussions on difficult topics came together.
"It is very humbling to have everyone in the community sitting around a table and saying 'What can we do?'" said District Administrator Patrick Olson at a school board meeting following the roundtable. "The best way I can describe it is that there is a venture and a conversation to create a task force to address these topics within our community on an annual basis."
According to Olson, the roundtable started on the subject of mental health, but eventually found its way to discussing addiction, bullying, active shooters and wellness in general.
"We had always known that there had been a little bit of an issue, but I think the tragedies really brought it to a head," said Marie Gremore. "I think that with everything that has happened (over the last year or so), and with so much mental illness in the world, that it brought the subject back to the forefront in our community."
That was when the Living Well Together initiative was created with New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik's tagline "an educated community is a well community" as the initiative's slogan. The initiative is a proactive, collaborative platform to educate, discus, and combat difficult topics in today's society through the use of symposiums, events and gatherings on an annual, or more frequent, basis. The hope of the initiative is that if everyone is speaking the same verbiage, communicating resources and assisting one another, the power of many becomes the norm to help combat the issues.
"From my perspective, I think this came about through all the different tragedies the community faced when numerous people came forward wanting to help," said Mary Hailey. "From that we started to see that there was a need and several groups came together to work together as form the Living Well Together group."
Leading the initiative is the governance team, which includes Yehlik representing law enforcement, Gremore representing the business community, Hailey representing the New Richmond Area Community Foundation, JoAnn Wrich representing Westfields Hospital and Clinic and Olson representing the school district.
"What we have done in the past isn't enough anymore. It takes a village to really make a difference. By having a wide range of people on this committee, we can come at the issues from different perspectives," said Wrich. "That is where I think we will get the most results, is by teaming together rather than trying to do things on our own."
According to the governance team, the initiative is still in the planning stages, with Dowell Management currently conducting a needs assessment — which is being backed by the Community Foundation — for the community. The needs assessment includes one-on-one interviews in the community to take a look at where people see a need and what issues they see arising.
"We don't want to bombard the community with too much all at once. The audience for any given event will differ depending on the focus of that one event. We really want to hit all the angles and hit on topics that are important to the community," Wrich said. "It is really a full community piece, even though the tragedies have focused the spotlight on the youth, but it really is broader than that. There isn't going to be event or program that is going to fix everything. We are going to need to look at a variety of programs to see what fits our community and what people want to know more about."
Dowell will take the data they collect and report to the committee, along with recommendations of areas of need. The assessment will give the governance team a clearer focus on what the community needs most. The team is expecting to have the results this fall.
"I think it is also important to point out that the mental health and suicide part of this is just one piece of the puzzle," Hailey said. "This is really bigger than that, but they are just as if not more difficult conversations to have as a community. We are looking to find out where the needs, as well as the opportunities, to educate the community on these topics."
The types of events and programs the group might bring in is still a work in progress, as they wait to see what the needs assessment report reveals about the community needs. However, the committee has been researching, as well as attended, the types of events and programs communities around New Richmond are holding.
"We hear a lot more about these tragedies when it happens to kids because they are young, but it happens a lot more in this community and we don't necessarily hear about it because they are older or it is not as prevalent," Gremore said. "But it is not just about suicide. It is also about the drug issue in this community and this country. There are so many other things that we are looking to educate people about."
For more information on the initiative, contact the members of the governance teams. According to the team, there will be a Facebook page for the initiative available in the near future. Another resource suggested by the governance team was MakeItOkay.org, in addition to the 24/7 suicide hotlines available for those in need.