Aiko’s Team began September 2003. Earlier that year, Aiko, age 14, died by suicide. It was a devastating event. She was a beloved daughter and an active member of Centenary UMC—a charter member of Chikara Daiko, a member of Praise Band and A4G (All for God youth praise band), hand bell choir, Chamber Ensemble, mission trips, Sunday School, and United Methodist Youth.
We began our grief journey by inviting speakers from Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center and TeenLine. Informed about the warning signs and actions needed to reduce suicides, CUMC offered workshops to clergy and youth workers as well.
In September 2003, seven members walked in the Alive & Running 5K Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention. A member of the church, said she wanted to help, but felt helpless. She set out to secure pledges for the team among the congregation. She said “This I can do!” We raised $2,000 that first event.
Aiko’s Team has been at each event since then. Our numbers varied between 7 and 86, over the years. Our fundraising varied between $2000 to over $10,000. Even during the pandemic, Aiko’s team raised almost $4000. On November 14, 2021, twenty-one members of Aiko’s Team participated in the reformatted community walk, Alive Together: Uniting for Suicide Prevention and raised more than $5,000. More important than the funds, was the awareness of suicide prevention. Each member and the family and friends they talk to, represent an increased awareness of suicide prevention and a diminishment of the stigma surrounding it.
In September, Aiko’s mother, Marilyn, shared her experience at the church Family Camp. Others came forward and for the first time shared their experiences. She realized that openness and awareness was the answer to the constant question “What do I do now?” Aiko’s life could be celebrated and we did, her death was horrific but it couldn’t be changed, so the only thing that would give this event meaning was our response to it. As Marilyn spoke at different venues, she would learn how her story could influence someone to step up and help a person they saw struggling. This awareness and call to action is God’s answer to “what do I do now?” It is God’s love.
The funds we raise support the Suicide Prevention Center at Didi Hirsch: SPC has a 24/7 crisis line in English and Spanish and offers several hours in Korean and Vietnamese. It receives 130,000 calls, chats and texts each year. It covers most of Southern California and, as part of the national Lifeline, handles calls both nationally and internationally. The center’s speakers go into schools, churches, clinics and workplaces to make presentations on suicide awareness and prevention. They conduct ASIST trainings, which is similar to CPR in that they provide lay training to create a community-wide safety net. The center is also one of the first in the nation that provides support groups to people who have attempted suicide, called Survivors of Suicide Attempt (SOSA). And when the horrible happens, there is Survivors After Suicide Loss (SAS), a bereavement program for individuals, groups and workplace debriefs. In addition there is a Suicide Response Team, within the City of Los Angeles, which responds to the scene of a suicide and talks with the family. There is now a free-standing SPC which has a counseling center as well as the crisis line.
There is a great deal of stigma around suicide and mental illness. In 2011 the Church and Society Committee added Aiko’s Team to their list of projects (Kiva, LGBTQ issues, Fair Trade, labor issues). Although Centenary has supported Aiko’s Team from the beginning, it became an official church ministry. The co-chairs of Church and Society began to organize the team in 2018.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 800-273-8255 for the Suicide Prevention 24 hour crisis line.
Join Centenary’s email list at https://www.centenarydtla.org/subscribe to learn about Aiko’s Team and other opportunities for spiritual growth and mission.
Go to youtu.be/UWs_B_q-l94 and see the video of Aiko’s Team through the years at the Alive & Running 5K Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention.