SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The topic of mental health awareness is gaining traction across the country right now, including here in South Dakota. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention South Dakota chapter is working hard to raise awareness and prevent suicide. Their mission statement for this year is “Demand more for Mental Health”.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is not just one single headquarter, it’s a network of volunteers across South Dakota that work together to bring mental health awareness and advocacy.

When Angela Drake isn’t running her business Two Men and a Truck, she’s working on coordinating educational programs and events for AFSP.

Dubbed Wonder Woman by her peers, she’s worked with AFSP for the last 6 years. Several volunteers have personal stories that brought them to AFSP. Drake is one of them.

“I started volunteering in 2016 after losing my daughter,” said Angela Drake, Board Chair of AFSP.

Her daughter Brittany struggled with her mental health for a number of years before completing suicide in 2016.

“We went into war and fought with all that we had with the resources that were available at the time and unfortunately March 24th of 2016, she lost her battle,” Drake said.

After Brittany’s passing, Drake began her advocacy work with AFSP…

“I just knew there was a need for a voice and I have a great big mama voice! I advocated for my daughter through her battles and I knew that other people needed a big strong voice as well,” Drake said.

She has been board chair for the last three years, continuing to fight alongside so many who are struggling.

“There’s still so many people still fighting this war, I can keep hope alive in my heart and her light shining in this world, by helping others find their hope,” Drake said.

“We really need to get out there and start the conversation, remove the stigma and just get these kids the support they need,” said Samatha Hettinger, Board Member and English teacher at Harrisburg High School.

Samantha Hettinger began volunteering with AFSP in 2014. She is also an English teacher in Harrisburg. Her journey with AFSP began with a personal story as well.

“I am a suicide loss survivor. I lost my high school sweetheart Joseph Chmielewski in 2009 when I was 18,” Hettinger said.

After she joined AFSP, she and others worked to build the first AFSP chapter here in South Dakota.

“A big goal for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on a national level is to increase that mental health parody, so helping everyone to understand your mental health is a part of you and it’s a part of your health,” Hettinger said.

“We’re able to go into a school or community group and provide basic mental health awareness and education on how to support a loved one that may be battling a mental health issue,” Drake said.

Some of the biggest events for AFSP are the suicide awareness walks, these walks raise the funds that allow AFSP to provide education for suicide prevention for free across South Dakota.

“Education, advocacy, loss support and research allows us to hit everything on all four points so we can continue making a difference, providing hope and saving lives for those who need it most,” Drake said.

The most recent walk was at Harrisburg High School in early May. A parent had reached out to AFSP to coordinate an awareness walk after a student, Alex, completed suicide.

“It was really exciting when Lance reached out to us and wanted to do the campus walk, often times the walks are the first thing we do in a community to establish ourselves and grow those roots and then we can do further programming and education and prevention,” Hettinger said.

More than 100 students, staff and community members showed up to support, each person telling their story with the honor beads.

“Our honor beads symbolize a lot of different experiences with suicide and suicide prevention, and mental health. Hettinger said.

Hettinger and Drake are now working on a suicide prevention education program as well as planning an annual walk at Harrisburg High School.

“Now the door is open so now we can walk on through,” Hettinger said.

“That fills my heart with so much joy, so much hope to be able to reach anyone, wherever they are and whatever their need is,” Drake said.

AFSP will be holding an event Tuesday at 6:15 at Harrisburg High School. The presentation “Talk Saves Lives” will cover how to identify if someone needs help and the current research on suicide prevention. You can find more information on more programs offered and the link to register for the event here.