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Mental health awareness campaign kicks off

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"Life - Live It, " a community-wide campaign to increase awareness of mental health resources, will launch next week during the June Jubilee parade.

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M State Wadena student government leaders won't just be tossing candy from their float next Thursday. The group is one of several that will be handing out green bracelets with the number to the local crisis line, 1-800-462-5525.

It's all a part of the effort - led by Wadena-Deer Creek schools, M State and the Cyber Cafe - to spread a simple message to those suffering with mental illness: Help is available and don't be afraid to ask for it.

Alarmed by a series of teen suicides, a group of Wadena leaders decided to take action.

"We've just seen this too much and we really needed to do something about it ..." said Mayor Wayne Wolden, M State's business manager. "(Mental health resources) are available, it's just the awareness of the availability."

The bracelets are just the beginning.

They're intended to build momentum for the main "Life - Live It" event, a dance/walk-a-thon from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20 at WDC middle/high school. Also that week, M State Wadena will host a mental health awareness fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 18 and the Wadena Lions will hold a "Burger Bash" during the two hours before the WDC football game Sept. 19.

Money raised from the events - and any donations in the meantime - will be split evenly between WDC and the Cyber Cafe.

"The funds that go to the school will be used to bolster our mental health programs, to try to help our kids," said Lee Westrum, WDC superintendent.

Right now, Brainerd-based Crisis Line and Referral Services conducts an annual suicide prevention program for WDC seventh-graders, identifying at-risk students and directing them toward help.

"Our plans are to make our program more comprehensive and boost it beyond the seventh grade," Westrum said.

Because bullying contributes to mental health issues, he said, some money will also go to strengthening bullying prevention programs.

The Cyber Cafe will use the majority of its share "to keep these doors open," said Gail Vittetoe, the organization's event coordinator. This summer, the coffee shop and teen center is facing a budget crisis, with up to 50 percent of its funding at risk.

The Cyber Cafe's mission is to provide a safe and chemical-free environment for youth - a goal "Life - Live It" organizers believe is in line with promoting mental health.

"That is such a critical need," said Cyber board member Ann Pate, a WDC school board member.

Those interested in sponsoring "Life - Live it," volunteering or organizing associated fundraising events should contact The Cyber Cafe at (218) 632-5700 or Vittetoe at (218) 371-5677.

Registration forms for the dance/walk-a-thon (open to participants ninth grade and older for $25) can be picked up at the Cyber.

Tax deductible donations can be sent to The Cyber Cafe, P.O. Box 214, Wadena, MN 56482.

"People are very interested in it and wanting to help out, to try to see if we can make a difference," Vittetoe said.

Although it decided against taking a more active role in order to focus on developing a monthly support group for those affected by suicide, Tri-County Health Care is donating all the printed materials for the event.

"We're really blessed with some generous people and businesses in this community," Westrum said.

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