Chalk it up: Suicide prevention awareness month gets a colorful assist from area artists like you

During the month of September, draw or write a message of hope, awareness or promise on a sidewalk or driveway, then share your creation on the Facebook page at Rivers and Lakes Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Mahube Chalk Art.JPG
Staff at Mahube-Otwa in Wadena stood outside their office on Tuesday, Sept. 6, with their chalk artwork in front of them. They are taking part in a "Chalk it up" event throughout the month of September where they hope to inspire hope through creative chalk messaging on the sidewalk. They invite the entire community to join in the art making. Staff include Tricia Shaw, left, Sue Estabrooks-Anderson, Tammy Kircher, Stacy Carr, Jarissa Eckman, Debra Kabrud, Emily Clark, Judy Peterson and Sheila Stave.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — Arlene Selander, chair of the Rivers & Lakes Suicide Prevention Coalition, was out for a walk on Labor Day when she stumbled upon a colorful display of chalk art on the side of the road in Aitkin.

The art was simple yet powerful, “Tomorrow needs you!” it read in a myriad of pastels. It was a message that likely showed up thanks to the efforts of Selander and the board that helped bring forth a simple idea to a large area of central Minnesota.

The Rivers and Lakes Suicide Prevention Coalition, started a chalk it up movement that asks anyone and everyone to create a public chalk art display that speaks to the often taboo subject of suicide as it is suicide prevention awareness month this September.

“We were looking at how we could do something where people don’t have to commit a lot of time,” Selander said. They brainstormed and came up with sidewalk chalk art that can be done by anyone and seen by anyone.

The movement made its way into Wadena where Mahube-Otwa staff jumped at the chance to decorate their sidewalk along Jefferson Street in Wadena. It’s packed with positive thinking and reminds passersby that they are not alone in their struggles. They will be creating new art throughout the month of September and are asking the community to join them in making Wadena more colorful than ever.


“Mahube-Otwa loves being part of these group efforts,” Wadena office manager Stacy Carr said last week. She said as a community action partner, they are focused on coming alongside people in their hardships and this project goes right in line with what they believe in.

“It’s just another event that we felt was necessary to get the word out, to help folks,” Carr said. Carr explains that if Mahube-Otwa can’t help, they are happy to find the help needed.

Mahube-Otwa is joining the charge to brighten city sidewalks with chalk art during the month of September as part of Suicide Prevention Awareness month.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

Throughout the month, checkout new creations on sidewalks throughout the entire area of focus, which includes Aitkin, Cass, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. Businesses and families are encouraged to join in the cause. Businesses like Stomping Grounds in Staples have already been regular contributors to the artful cause.

During the month of September, draw or write a message of hope, awareness or promise on a sidewalk or driveway, then share your creation on the Facebook page at Rivers and Lakes Suicide Prevention Coalition. There everyone can see the messages of hope.

Selander said she got involved in this cause originally to focus on the mental health needs of veterans. She has since expanded to raise awareness around suicide stigma across the entire population. As many people know someone in the military, many also know someone impacted by suicide. This is one more way that can help reach those who need to hear this message and open up the topic for discussion by others.

“Slowly but surely we are coming along and making it OK to talk about (suicide),” Selander said.

You can find more information about this initiative at Rivers and Lakes Suicide Prevention Coalition .

Talking about suicide

If you encounter someone who is feeling hopeless, talks of suicide and feels like a burden to those around them, seek or provide help for that person.


The number of people who die by suicide each year around the globe is around 800,000, according to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). About 1 in 25 attempts for suicide result in death, meaning many times more people have suicidal thoughts than most people will ever hear about.

Help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now 988 . You should also talk to your doctor, or text SAVE to 741741 or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, and as always, call 911 during an emergency.

Need some chalk?

If you are in need of chalk in Aitkin County- Contact Arlene Selander (, Cass County- contact Kristy Smart, Cass County Veteran Service Officer (218-947-7534), Morrison County- contact Melanie Erickson, Morrison County Health and Human Services (320-632-0267), Todd County- contact Pete Berscheit, Todd County Veteran Service officer, (320-732-4418), and Wadena county- contact MAHUBE-OTTWA (218-530-1818). Selander Consulting generously donated sidewalk chalk for this project.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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