Choosing Openness

Founder of C.O.R.E wants people to look for the signs

Photos submitted to Times Observer C.O.R.E. billboards around Warren County for Suicide Prevention Month.

They can measure hundreds of square feet.

But what’s written on billboards around Warren County is bigger than that.

Messages being shared by C.O.R.E. (“Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences”) on five roadside billboards around the county this month are meant to raise suicide prevention awareness, according to Kari Swanson of C.O.R.E.

The goal of C.O.R.E. — working with the school district and beyond — has been to start a candid dialogue among those in the community who’ve struggled with self-destructive impulses and suicidal ideation.

“It’s like exercise,” Swanson said at the group’s inception. “You want to strengthen your core. You want to make the core of who you are stronger, too… We need to talk about it. We need to problem solve together.”

Photos submitted to Times Observer C.O.R.E. billboards around Warren County for Suicide Prevention Month.

We say “has been” the goal of C.O.R.E. because the county is talking, and billboards are a small part.

“I have always wanted to do billboards, but never looked into them,” said Swanson. “A friend of mine from the school district sent me a link on an artist in Kansas City who put up an affirmative saying billboard in hopes of saving lives. She then sent me the advertising contact information for Lamar Advertising out of Erie who is in charge of the billboards around here. This was the push I needed.

“C.O.R.E. purchased five billboards for the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month,” said Swanson. “I designed the billboards with messages I wanted to get across to people who would see them, and with statistics I feel are important for others to realize and know with respect to suicide. I wanted these billboards to send hope to those struggling, remind others to be aware of others who may be struggling, and just to raise awareness in general.”

“There are two by Dairy Delite, one going towards Sheffield, and the other coming into Warren,” said Swanson. “One of them has the semicolon on it, and I want people to know the significance of the semicolon with suicide prevention. In grammar, the author uses it to continue a sentence in a story… The author is you, the sentence is your life… choose to keep going. Another billboard is in Pittsfield and gives the stat that suicide takes a life every every 40 seconds. Tidioute has a billboard with two hands connecting, encouraging people to reach out, and Sugar Grove has one giving the stat that 22 veterans a day die by suicide. All five are different, but each one has the suicide prevention (phone) number on it.”

The suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and the texting line is TALK to 741741.

Photos submitted to Times Observer C.O.R.E. billboards around Warren County for Suicide Prevention Month.

“I have had comments recently on how nice it to see billboards encouraging others and sending hope,” said Swanson. “C.O.R.E. has already reserved five more billboards for Mental Health Month in May. A contest will be started in January and February for 9th through 12th graders to design a billboard for Mental Health Month. Each school will vote in a winner and that winner will work with myself and Lamar Advertising to get their art up for the month of May in Sheffield, Russell, Youngsville, Warren, and Tidioute. I had planned to do billboards in May, but then was meeting with the school district about events and an administrator suggested the contest. I thought that was a fabulous idea and a great way to better incorporate the schools and communities.”

The billboards have a simple purpose, and it’s a positive one.

“If one billboard reaches one person and possibly saves one life, I’m happy,” said Swanson. “If one billboard makes someone change how they view someone with mental health struggles, I’m happy. If one billboard educates someone on mental health and suicide, I’m happy.”

C.O.R.E., along with Family Services of Warren County, continues its message this month with the “Life Is… GLOW;RIOUS” Suicide Prevention/Mental Health Awareness Glow Walk/Run from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at War Memorial Field. Participants can register on Facebook at CORE-suicidepreventionproject, or call Swanson at (814) 779-0767.

Donations are accepted, but the event is free to participate. There will be Glow goodies (bracelets, necklaces, etc.) available, raffles, an ice cream truck, music by Something for Nothing, Molly Dies Dance Express Company will perform, as well as a visit from the Enchanted Fairytale Troupe. There will be hot dogs, chips, and drinks, and arts and crafts.

Photos submitted to Times Observer C.O.R.E. billboards around Warren County for Suicide Prevention Month.

“Everyone is welcome — families, individuals, groups.”

“I’m so thankful for the outpouring of support I’ve received and for the number of people who have asked questions, wanted to learn more about mental health and suicide prevention, and for all the people who have shared their ‘story,'” said Swanson. “Agencies have been so supportive and I finally feel like C.O.R.E.’s name is starting to be recognized in conversations about mental health. I’ve received invitations from other agencies and groups asking C.O.R.E. to have a table at events for mental health and suicide prevention. I had no idea where this would lead a couple years ago, and I couldn’t be happier with the progression and with the support from this community.”

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry C.O.R.E. billboards around Warren County for Suicide prevention Month.