October 13, 2018

Suicide prevention: Knowing the signs and knowing where to turn for help

By Bill Diamond

Suicide is a terrible tragedy. It devastates families and sends traumatic shock waves through our entire community. In the aftermath, it has many of us asking ourselves why and trying to figure out what could have been done differently to save a life. While there may be no definitive answer in each case, it can’t hurt to be armed with the facts, aware of the signs and know where to turn for help in a crisis situation.

In Maine, the rate of suicide has increased significantly over the past fifteen years. According to a report from the National Center for Disease Control, Maine’s suicide rate jumped more than 27 percent between 1999-2016. While the increase in part reflects national trends, it’s still deeply troubling. With so many Mainers struggling with mental health, we need to make sure we do everything we can to prevent suicide in our schools, in our families and ultimately in our communities.

To start, it’s helpful to become familiar with possible warning signs. The CDC has identified twelve different signs that could indicate someone is a suicide risk. The signs range from changes in behavior to more obvious expressions of suicidal thought. The signs include feeling like a burden, isolation, feeling trapped, increased substance abuse, increased anxiety, increased anger or rage, extreme mood swings, expressing hopelessness, dramatic changes in sleeping patterns, looking for access to lethal means, talking or posting about wanting to die, and making plans for suicide. If someone you know and/or love is exhibiting these types of behaviors, I urge you to check in on them. Whether they are considering suicide or simply struggling with their mental health, it cannot hurt to let them know that someone cares.

It’s also crucial to know what to do if someone is at risk. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommends following five simple actions steps to reduce someone’s risk of suicide. The first step is to ask them point blank if they are or have ever considered committing suicide. This may seem jarring but it’s important to be upfront and non-judgmental to get the facts. The second step is to keep them safe. Identify the methods of suicide that they have considered and do what you can to eliminate those methods as options. The third step is to be there as a support system. Check-in regularly so an at-risk individual knows they are not alone and that someone has their back.The fourth step is to connect a potential suicide risk with robust mental health resources. As friends and family, we can only do so much. Mental health professionals are an essential part of suicide prevention. The final step is to follow up. Reminding someone with suicidal tendencies or thoughts that you care on a regular basis can reduce the likelihood of suicide.

Finally, it’s critical that Mainers know where to turn for help. As a state, we are fortunate enough to have several resources to help families and communities deal with this serious issue. If it’s an emergency, the best place to turn is the Maine Crisis Hotline, which can be reached at 1-888-568-1112. The hotline essentially serves as a one-stop shop around the clock for emergency assessment, intervention and short-term mental health treatment. It works efficiently to connect individuals with appropriate crisis response services in their communities. In Cumberland County, adults are connected with the Opportunity Alliance and children are connected with Sweetser. Both are widely respected organizations with a number of trained professionals prepared to get you and your family through this crisis. Another option is the national helpline which can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
While we cannot bring back those whose lives were cut short due to suicide, we can raise awareness, improve mental health education, get rid of the stigma and get the facts. Knowing what to look for and where to turn for help could save a life.

As always, please feel free to contact me at diamondhollyd@aol.com or (207) 287-1515 if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

October 12, 2018

Windham Public Safety Day teaches community the importance of safety

Ollie Beaulieu and firefighter Emily Temple
By Matt Pascarella

The Windham Fire and Police departments held a Public Safety Day on Saturday, October 6th at the Public Safety building in Windham.

This informational event featured tables set up providing information about various programs, such as: the Yellow Dot program, a free program designed to help first responders locate you faster after a crash or medical emergency; the Dare to Adventure Program, a program designed to give kids healthy alternatives, keeping them away from drugs and the Be the Influence program, which also teaches kids about the harmful side effects of drugs. There was also a distracted driving simulator and a coloring station and Officer Steve Stubbs put on a K-9 demonstration with his dog Kora. 

There were fire trucks and police cruisers available for children to see and explore. Children also had an opportunity to play a game where they got to spray a fire hose, with some assistance from a firefighter.

“It’s good for people to come to Public Safety Day to see the different tools and equipment that the town offers and that the police and fire department have to help them in case they have an emergency,” remarked Captain Bill Andrews. “Public safety awareness is the key...it shows, from the police department stand point, the different tools we have, like the K-9 unit to find lost people...and the other programs we offer...along with other community events, like the TIP (Trauma Intervention Program). There are all kinds of different programs that are out there to help the community.”

Terri Gould, and her son, Dezzmon said they came to Safety Day because it was a way to have fun and explore the concepts of police and fire safety.

Coffee with a Cop gives community chance to see law enforcement from another side

Chief Kevin Schofield, Kenneth Brann, Rep.Patrick Corey
By Matt Pascarella

The Windham Police Department held a “Coffee with a Cop” event at Duck Pond Variety in Windham on Wednesday, October 3rd. This was a chance for members of the community to speak with police officers in an informal setting where there was no set agenda, share some thoughts and ideas and get to know each other.

“Coffee with a Cop” Day was nationwide last Wednesday and it was the first time that the Windham Police Department had tried it. From what I observed at 8:15 in the morning, it was a success. Duck Pond Variety was full of individuals talking with local Windham Police officers and connecting in the way the event intended.

“It’s a really good opportunity for our officers to engage with the community and meet new people,” said Chief Kevin Schofield.

“It’s really good public outreach; often times people don’t have an invitation to come talk to us outside of law enforcement or an emergency situation...events like this show we are approachable and
it’s easy to come talk to us,” remarked Officer Matt Cyr.

“I came out to show support. I think they do any excellent job for the town. I just like to...show my appreciation for what they do,” commented Windham resident Dave Nadeau.

The Windham Police Department is hoping to pick different locations around town and do it four to five times a year and is looking to hold another ‘Coffee with a Cop’ event in November.

October 6, 2018

VFW announces kickoff of annual scholarship competitions

Commander Willie Goodman of the Windham Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 10643 has announced the kickoff for this year’s VFW Patriot’s Pen and Voice of Democracy essay competitions. 

The Patriot’s Pen competition is open to middle school students including home schoolers, in grades sixth through eighth in the Windham area. Students are invited to write a 300-400 word essay on this year’s theme, “Why I honor the American flag.”

The Voice of Democracy competition is open to high school students, grades ninth through 12th, including those home schooled in the Windham area. Students are to write and record a three to five-minute essay, on an audio CD, regarding this year’s theme “Why My Vote Matters.”

Students have the opportunity to compete in these VFW annual essay competitions and win thousands of dollars in scholarships in either competition. The first-place state winner of both competitions receives a four-day trip to Washington, DC. The first-place national winner receives $5,000 for the Patriot’s Pen winning essay and the first-place winning essay nationally for the Voice of Democracy receives a $30,000 college scholarship.

Students begin by competing at the local Post level. Post winners advance to District. District winners compete in the State competition.

Deadline for student entries is October 31st. Interested students and/or teachers should contact VFW Post 0643 by phone at 207-228-4329 or write to the post at P.O. Box 1776, Windham ME 04062.

The Make Shift Coffee House - a night of refreshing discussions and hope to narrow the divide

Over 50 people attended the event
By Mary-Therese Duffy

Space to hold the event? Check.  Food to eat? Check. Desserts and tea and a musician too?  Check, check, check. Republicans and democrats together in the same room?  Now, that was the unknown. 
After months of work by a team of seven from various political persuasions, multiple invitations, bulletin board postings, Facebook shares and phone calls, the organizing committee were still unconvinced that when the doors opened on Thursday, September 27th at the Windham Veterans Center, the room would begin to fill with community members willing to engage in a civil conversation, exploring the political divide.  

To our cautious optimism, the room did indeed begin to fill, and the shape and size of the divide began to be mined, civilly and intelligently. Approximately 50 people attended the event.
Upon entry, participants were provided simple instructions by Make Shift Coffee House founder, Craig Freshley: “Find someone you don’t know, and tell them what party you’re affiliated with (or not) and why.”

http://windhamrecreation.org/And there launched an evening filled with visible courage and kindness. Participants spoke to the experiences that shaped us as individuals and who we are as voters. Many of the comments heard throughout the evening included: “I saw that the more my family relied on the government, the weaker we became.” “It was the unions that kept my family from poverty.” “I came of age in the Kennedy era, inspired and hopeful for this society.”    
With the various statements defining our differences, our commonality became palpable, the recognition that our experience as Americans, was as big and complicated as the Country itself.  Respect and empathy reigned as each person who wanted to, moved into sharing their reactions and deep concerns to where we are now in this period of rapid and perplexing change.

As a group, there was discovery about individuals who had the courage to share the following comments, “I’m a republican who switched sides and am now a democrat.” “I’m a democrat who left the party because it went too far left.” “I don’t recognize my party anymore, I’m afraid I won’t recognize my Country, soon.”

In just under two hours, people moved from crossed arms and suspicion, to leaning in eye to eye, with genuine efforts to understand. There were smiles and laughter, pauses and quizzical looks and even among the frowns and the shaking of heads, there remained good hearted connection.

In an evening designed for listening, hearing and being heard, a few individuals didn’t get all of what they were hoping for, particularly if they and/or the person they greeted was interested in only changing minds.
But if closing comments are any indication, the evening was a great success in bringing people together no matter the political divide. “We are 100% present when we can be here,” said one participant in closing, and “Where is the outrage?” said another, pleasantly surprised. “I’m here with all these nice people and there’s no outrage!”

But the comments heard most, were the requests to do this again. “This was an excellent experience and is really needed,” one individual commented.

In an age when threads of commentary on social media can render our community relationships, thin and breakable, the Make Shift Coffee House platform offers a refreshing infusion of hope as can only be found in community, no matter our differences.

September 28, 2018

American Legion receives $500 donation for Everlasting Gratitude from Duane Clark Scholarship by Walter Lunt

American Legion accepts check
Windham’s Duane Clark Memorial Scholarship Committee has expanded its community giving to include the highly-regarded Everlasting Gratitude Program. E.G. places patriotic red, white and blue ribboned wreaths at the graves of all Windham veterans each December.

At a recent formal gathering at the Veterans Center in North Windham, Stan Page, a Vietnam veteran and chief fund-raiser for the Duane Clark Committee, presented a check for $500 to American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 Sgt. At Arms Larry DeHof.

All contributions to E.G. are dedicated to the wreath project; funds raised beyond the approximate $6000 annual cost for wreaths and materials are applied to the following year’s project.

Everlasting Gratitude began in 2014, the brainchild of Libby Sawyer of Studio Flora (Florist & Gift Shop). Libby, her family, local organizations and individuals pitched in as volunteers to create what would become an annual event to adorn over 800 gravesites in twenty-plus cemeteries throughout Windham.

https://www.egcu.org/homeIn its third year, the Legion Post offered to help with fund-raising and wreath laying. There is now a determined commitment to carry on the program as an annual tradition – a tribute to all Windham veterans.

The namesake of the Duane Clark Memorial Scholarship was a member of the Windham High School Class of 1964. He died in a road crash in 1971 at the age of 24. His grief-stricken classmates launched a scholarship in his name which has been awarded to a deserving Windham High School senior for over 45 years. Funds are raised through the annual antique auto show at Windham SummerFest, and by individual donations.

Julia Cheney, treasurer of the Clark Fund, said Clark was a very special person. He was a stellar athlete and an outstanding school and community citizen who treated everyone with respect.
“We know that if Duane were here, he would be working and supporting this cause, which is why we make this donation in his memory.”

Everlasting Gratitude takes place in early December and coincides with similar wreath-laying ceremonies at national cemeteries.  <

Building connection with neighbors by Elizabeth Richards

When members of a community are connected, it makes the community stronger. Irina and Alexi Popov understand this. Twice now, they have hosted neighborhood gatherings to get to know their neighbors better and create that sense of connection.

Because of the time we live in, we notice that all the gadgets, technology, and social media take away the real relationships people can have or used to have. It is something we ourselves want to work on,” Irina said. 

Late this summer, the Popovs hosted a gathering in their yard, inviting all of the residents of Old County Road and the three roads that branch off it to attend. Two years ago, they did the same thing, with about 20 neighbors attending. This year, they had six families, and a total of 22 guests, plus the band members, who live in other parts of Windham. They would like to make this an annual event, Irina said.

“We wanted to socialize more, be more like a community,” Irina said when asked why they decided to host such a gathering. The Popovs have lived in the neighborhood for ten years now. They have two young children, aged one and three. While they know their immediate neighbors on top of the hill, she said, they didn’t have the same connection with other area residents. “We realized that sometimes we are up here in our own little world. We wanted to know other people. That was a pull for us,” she said.

The event included a bounce house, trampoline and other fun activities for children; refreshments; live music; and a bonfire at the end of the evening.  Guests arrived at 5 p.m. and stayed throughout the evening. They spent time talking with the neighbors about how long they have lived on the road and their history.  “It was a blast to find out the history of the road,” Irina said. “One neighbor has lived in the house his father built in the 1960's! His sister lives up the road.”

As the evening wound down, they formed a closer circle and asked a specific question: what the highlight of their summer was. “Everyone shared,” Irina said, and answers allowed more insight into who the people in the neighborhood are. 

The goal of the event was to get to know the neighbors, Irina said, and it was a great success.  “If we didn’t have this gathering, we probably wouldn’t even know who else lives out there,” she said. “Now when you drive by, it’s more than just a wave.” The group has created a Facebook page to keep in contact and continue that connection.

“It was a good experience,” Irina said. She added that they hope people reading the story are encouraged to do the same kind of thing in their own neighborhoods.