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A ride to save lives - Suicide prevention task force holding fundraiser

August 15, 2018

By Andrew Mansfield
Reporter, The Gardner News

FITCHBURG — The Montachusett Suicide Prevention Task Force will promote well-being and safety at its upcoming fundraiser, the sixth annual Ride of Your Life.

“What we want to do is provide the community with hope,” said task force member Barbara Nealon. “We hope that it brings people together to understand that they are not alone.”

The Ride of Your Life event will be held Sunday, Aug. 19, at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School, at 1050 Westminster St. in Fitchburg.

It includes a three-hour motorcycle ride beginning at the school and going through North Central Massachusetts along Route 2A, but it is also open to nonriders, as well, with plenty going on at the school including food, raffles, a job fair and resource tables from local organizations sharing their information.

The event has gained popularity over the years, with Nealon saying the attendance has gone up to 250 riders.

She is the social services director at Heywood Hospital in Gardner and one of the main organizers for the task force, which was founded by the hospital in 2012, in response to the local area having an above-average suicide rate for the state.

Over the last several years, the task force has grown to covering 22 cities and towns in the North Central and North Quabbin regions.

Nealon said the group has close to 100 members from a wide range of fields, such as health care, education and law enforcement, all of whom coordinate together suicide prevention efforts.

The Ride of Your Life raises money for the task force to fund a variety of initiatives, such as running support groups and offering to people for free the suicide prevention training known as Question, Persuade and Refer.

Nealon said that while losing one life to suicide is too many, progress has been made in recent years in some of the communities the task force covers, saying “statistically we’ve seen a decline in the Greater Gardner area.”

She provided data the task force receives on suicide cases from the offices of Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., and the Massachusetts State Police.

In the example of Gardner, there has been a decline in suicides since 2012, when there six suicides. The following year in 2013 there were three suicides, then five in 2014 and four in 2015.

The last few years have shown the improvement. In 2016, Gardner had two suicides and last year in 2017, there were zero suicides. Unfortunately, in the period of January through April of this year, there was one suicide.

The largest communities that the task force covers are Leominster, where there were four suicides last year, and Fitchburg, where there were six suicides last year.

The local area is certainly not isolated when it comes to concern over the issue of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States and increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016.

In Massachusetts, the suicide rate jumped 35.3 percent during that time period.

The Montachusett Suicide Prevention Task Force represents an all hands on deck approach to trying to educate people about suicide and collaborate on prevention efforts.

“We cannot do this by ourselves. It’s got to be the full community helping us,” Nealon said.

Regarding the upcoming Ride of Your Life, Nealon commented that one of the “new and unique” features will come from media sponsor WAAF, as Mistress Carrie, one of the radio station’s popular DJs, will make an appearance.

Registration for the motorcycle ride will begin at 8 a.m., with kickstands up at 9:30 a.m. There is a $25 fee for motorcycle riders and a $15 fee for passengers.

A barbecue lunch will be held at the school at 11:30 a.m. and is open to the public. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12.

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