Suicide prevention advocate recognized

Casey Szmata, left, founder of Always Find a Reason to Smile in Peace River, accepts the Friends of Education award nomination from Peace River School Division Ward 5 trustee Lori Leitch.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

An amazing $23,821 has been raised for the suicide prevention non-profit Always Find a Reason to Smile through the Peace River Tim Hortons Smile Cookie Campaign.

The grand total of 23,821 cookies sold far exceeded the 10,000 cookie goal, as well as the 8,300 total cookies sold when owners Gordon and Barb Drummond first offered the opportunity to the organization three years ago.

Barb Drummond attended the very first Always Find a Reason to Smile Suicide Awareness and Prevention Welcoming the Light Walk and the couple have been strong supporters of the organization ever since.

Casey Szmata, founder of Always Find a Reason to Smile, was also celebrated after being nominated as Peace River School Division’s Friends of Education 2020 Award at the Sept. 23 Alberta School Boards Association Zone 1 fall general meeting, along with nominees from other school boards in northern Alberta.

The Friends of Education Award recognizes individuals or groups who have made a special contribution to education, student learning and well-being.

“Casey has been instrumental in bringing awareness, and encouraging important conversations surrounding suicide and the importance of mental health in our schools and communities,” says PRSD board chair Darren Kuester.

“The award, I am so humbled. My heart was very happy to receive such an honour,” says Szmata.

“The other nominees were so fantastic as well – what an amazing place we live in. As always, my heartfelt thank you to everyone, and my single message? Hope! There is always hope! You are never alone, it is sometimes hard to reach out, but please do, because we are here and we care,” she adds.

Szmata was also very pleased with the campaign.

“The campaign was insane! Nobody expected the response we got! It speaks solely to the need for mental health/suicide prevention in our area!”

Szmata has visited many PRSD schools to share suicide awareness presentations, provide suicide awareness lunches, and in every PRSD school, the Always Find a Reason to Smile team posted inspirational stickers in all washrooms to let those who are struggling know they are not alone.

Always Find a Reason to Smile also organized and funded suicide awareness hotdog lunches at Manning Paul Rowe High School, Hines Creek Composite, Fairview High School and Peace River High School for students in 2019 with the intention to provide space for conversations surrounding mental health and suicide.

Szmata gave a presentation at the Mental Health Headstrong Summit at the Grimshaw Multiplex in February 2019. Always Find a Reason to Smile also provided a pancake breakfast for participants.

“Our board is very passionate about advocating and supporting our student’s mental health and wellness,” says PRSD Ward 5 trustee Lori Leitch, who was also a key organizer for the Headstrong Summit.

“Casey’s support, the way in which she connects with students, and how she creates space for these important conversations is greatly appreciated.”

Szmata has recently been appointed to the Alberta Health Services Zone 1 Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Council, is a board member of the Ignite Youth Group in Fairview, leads bereavement groups in several local communities, organizes the “Picnic in the Park” initiative in Fairview, and is affiliated with “A Servants Heart” initiative in Peace River, which serves to help families and individuals in need.

“Casey is very deserving of this award and we are happy to celebrate the important contributions she has and continues to make that make such a positive difference in the lives of our students and school communities,” says Kuester.

“Mental health is crucial to student success and we are grateful for the caring support Casey provides in our schools and communities,” he adds.

Szmata not only lost her daughter, Morgan, to suicide but also her nephew in August. She says there aren’t enough words to express the gratitude she feels for the support of the community.

She adds the current pandemic is no reason to let your guard down.

“COVID has been a very scary time for everyone. Children and adults alike. Now more than ever it is up to us to take care of each other.”

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