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#GiveMe20: KC mothers 'rising up from the ashes' to prevent teen suicide

Shifting Gears for Regan
Syliva Harrell and her son, Chad.jpg
Posted at 8:39 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 21:39:07-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At 16 years old, Regan Johnson already was focused on her future, studying to become a nurse. But it changed in a moment.

"She was really, really stressed about her CNA, just worried that she wasn't going to pass her final exam,” BJ Thomas-Wilson, Regan’s mother, said. “I thought it was just a moment of stress and it was all going to pass. And then it didn’t."

Earlier that day, Regan, who was staying at her father’s house, spoke to her mother and older sister over the phone, and seemed excited about an upcoming trip to Florida and Disney World. Later that afternoon, she stopped responding to texts and calls.

Frustrated, Thomas-Wilson reached out to her ex-husband and received news no parent is prepared to hear.

"I said, 'What is happening? Why are you being so weird? And where is Regan, why isn’t she answering my phone?'” she said. “And his response was, 'Regan’s dead.'"

Heartbroken and searching for answers, Thomas-Wilson first found support through therapy. She later connected with groups in the Kansas City metro that consisted of other parents who lost a child to suicide. That's where she met Syliva Harrell, who lost her son Chad earlier that same year.

While each family has foundations honoring their own children – Shifting Gears for Regan and Keep the Spark Alive for Chad – the two mothers decided to partner together on a project launched last year called #GiveMe20.

They point to statistics that show when a young person thinks of suicide, they can act on that in as little as 20 minutes. So, these families set out to find a way to try to redirect teens, before it's too late.

"If a teen could choose to end their life in 20 minutes, isn't it possible they could choose to live their life in that same time?" Thomas-Wilson said.

The goal of #Giveme20 is to make a "lifebox," which children can turn to in a moment of despair, to be reminded of all they have to live for.

These boxes are filled with a list of attributes students like about themselves, dreams for the future and a card that a parent, teacher or friend fills out to remind them why they are loved and how much they would be missed.

"What we've learned since losing Chad, suicide doesn't end the pain,” Harrell said. “It transfers the pain to all of those you love.”

The mothers started taking their message to small groups, but have since expanded to all eighth graders in Blue Valley Schools. Tara Walrod, Blue Valley Schools counseling and student services coordinator, said #GiveMe20 came along at the right time.

Since implementing the program last spring, it has elicited positive feedback from teachers and parents alike.

"I actually talk to a parent, she said with her child right at home, you know, just being able to have a really deep conversation about suicide prevention and why they made the box and then noticing that she put in a really space a special place where she could access it if she needed it," Walrod said.

Although the Thomas-Wilson and Harrell currently connect with classes and lead workshops via Zoom, they hope to one day resume in-person presentations.

They also hope to take their message to other metro school districts in the hopes of saving someone else's child.

"At the end of the day we're just two moms who suffered tremendous heartbreak and we're rising up from the ashes to try to make a difference,” Thomas-Wilson said. “We want to prevent other families from enduring this same nightmare.”

#GiveMe20 offers downloadable instructions on how to make a life box at home. More information on how to make a lifebox or to schedule a presentation can be found on the #GiveMe20 website.