Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
August 30, 2023
Jenna Clinchard | Rise Against Suicide
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Jenna Clinchard and I am the executive director for Rise Against Suicide. Our mission is to help youth at risk of suicide by removing the financial and social barriers to treatment, enabling them to find hope and healing.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
Rise Against Suicide came to me. It’s been a gift. When my oldest child was in high school, she struggled with suicidal thoughts and begged me to just let her die. She was really struggling with her mental health at the time. Going through that experience with her, and trying to find help for her, taught me that there are not a lot of resources out there for our kiddos struggling with suicidal ideation. It also taught me how lonely it feels as a parent, and how difficult it is to find help in the moment. When a friend approached me with the executive director position at Rise Against Suicide, it was really a no-brainer. I learned about the organization and realized how incredibly impactful it can be for families and kids, not just because I went through it, but because of my experience with other families as well. I really wanted to be a part of moving this mission forward.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
This work is important to me because I see so many young people struggling with their mental health right now. Every time I go to an event, I’m approached by a young person either saying they received Rise services, or they’re grateful to learn about Rise services for their friends or themselves. Some youth try to find help for their suicidal thoughts and are told they will have to wait three to six months to get connected to a therapist. I’ve heard stories from parents who were told their kids are not “suicidal enough,” so they need to come back when their child is more suicidal. That is baffling to me. When a young person is suicidal, they need to be seen immediately. That child is already feeling hopeless and this just sends them in the wrong direction. At Rise, a young person who’s struggling with suicidal thoughts or suicidal ideation can be seen within 24 to 72 hours. That’s what they need. I feel like the work we do at Rise is to meet these kids in a timely manner. I know that the work we’re doing is helping them.
My passion has always been working with young people and I’ve been working with youth since I was young myself. I’ve always wanted to work with and help young people because I think sometimes their voices are not always heard. It’s important at Rise that we hear what these young people are saying. In Colorado, a law was passed in 2020 allowing a young person who’s 12 or older to sign up for their own mental health care. I really was grateful for that because I think the state recognized that our kids need to be able to speak for their own mental health. I stand for youth voices and empower them to use their voices, especially when it comes to their mental health.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Unfortunately, our youth are in a mental health care crisis right now. In the fiscal year 2021-2022, our referrals increased 136%. The number of therapy sessions for our youth increased by 156%. The impact of Rise Against Suicide is being able to break barriers for these young people. One of those barriers we eliminate is financial because Rise Against Suicide funds all the therapy sessions for young people who come to us. There are also barriers for our mental health therapists. Not everyone can afford an office to see clients, so we’ve broken that barrier by offering Zoom or meeting the children where they’re located. Seventy-five percent of kids have their therapy sessions at school. We broke the barrier to make a referral for a young person to Rise Against Suicide. We have an online referral system so it’s much easier and less time-consuming to make a referral and get a person connected to a therapist. It’s about breaking barriers for every person.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
Both of my daughters are my inspiration, having watched them have their own mental health challenges and getting through them with therapy. They inspire me on a daily basis to not just show up for these young people but to want to do better and be a better person so I can continue to help people through Rise Against Suicide. Watching them grow and get through their challenges is extremely inspiring. It reminds me that if I’m having a bad day or a tough call at work, I just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. They got through it, and I can get through it too. Seeing them get through their mental health challenges continues to affirm why I do what I do.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I’d love to be out of a job because we have enough resources for suicidal youth or we don’t have suicidal youth, but I know that’s not realistic. So my vision is to continue to let people in our community know that we’re here, so kids can find us easily. I want to let young people know that they’re not alone.
We use SIQ forms (suicidal ideation questionnaires) to track the progress of our young people to make sure that they’re getting better. We trust our therapists to let them go when they’re ready. But what is more impactful is when I get a call from a therapist who would like to reopen a referral because a patient called to talk. That to me is a success, because that kid has learned through the therapy they received through Rise Against Suicide to reach out for help when they’re not feeling well mentally. Obviously, I want them to get rid of those suicidal thoughts and the ideation, but one of my biggest hopes is that they realize when they’re in that place, they’re not alone. All they have to do is pick up the phone and get the help they need from their therapist.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
In a nonprofit, funding is always a challenge. We raise our own funds, so that’s a work in progress every single day. It’s also about letting people know that we’re here so they can help us help kids. We don’t do this alone. We are a grassroots organization, and we rely on our community to help fund us. They are our partners.
The other challenge is letting parents and young people know that we’re here to help. We have an awareness campaign starting soon, reaching out directly to our youth to let them know we’re here to help.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
The work we’re doing is critical, essential work. It’s not going away anytime soon. Our young people are in a mental health crisis right now.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” It’s a quote from Mother Teresa. We need to love more, let people know they matter, and offer kindness to everyone.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Go to riseagainstsuicide.org. Learn more about us, donate to our organization, learn how to refer a young person, and find out what we’re doing in the community.
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