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News Maryland Howard County Columbia

Fundraiser benefits suicide prevention programs at Grassroots

Two months before his 21st birthday, Patrick Jameson took his life after earlier warning his family that he intended to kill himself.

Two months after his suicide in February 2002, his mother, Looks Salon and Spa owner Marilyn Petersen, held a fundraiser. The annual event, known as Looks for Life, has raised more than $120,000 in the past 10 years for suicide prevention programs at Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, located in Columbia on Freetown Road.

The tally from this year's Sept. 8 fundraiser, an upbeat event with a DJ that attracted nearly 100 female and male customers, has not yet been finalized.

"Patrick was a good student at Hammond High, where he was on the wrestling team, and he attended the University of Maryland, College Park," said Petersen, who has worked in the beauty industry since 1976. She opened her salon in Kings Contrivance in 1999, and moved it two years ago to larger quarters off Oakland Mills Road.

Preparing to make the transition from campus life to the real world was tough for her son, as it is for many young people, she said.

"He had issues with depression, and when he told us he was planning to kill himself we admitted him onto the psychiatric floor at Howard County General Hospital for five days," recalled Petersen, who has three other children.

Hospital staff worked hard to find the right combination of medications for Jameson, she stressed, but his prescriptions ultimately weren't effective and he hadn't been able to establish an emotional connection to a therapist.

Nicole DiChirico, director of crisis intervention services at Grassroots, said persons who finally decide to act after thinking about ending their lives over a period of time only wait an average of five minutes before making an attempt.

"This illuminates the need for people [in crisis] to not only have increased access to services, but shows that we must rely on the community to intervene," she said. After all, Grassroots can't help a person they haven't yet encountered, she pointed out.

"To people who know someone who they suspect needs help our message is, 'Don't do nothing,' " she said. Getting immediate help for the person in turmoil must be top priority and long-term assistance can be arranged later if needed.

Though many people consider death by suicide to be a teenage phenomenon, older white males comprise the highest at-risk group, DiChirico said. That's because they are often retired and sometimes feel isolated, she explained, and without work as their life's epicenter and a dearth of family support, their risk increases.

Raising funds for Grassroots is so important to Petersen that she informs job applicants that they must be willing to set aside a Sunday in September to work for free, even though the shop is normally closed on Sundays. Operators donate their time and decline tips during the event, and salon services are discounted, she said.

Briagh Strott, Jameson's sister and salon manager, pointed out that September is nationally recognized as Suicide Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to hold a fundraiser in memory of her brother, who was two years her junior.

A silent auction and a raffle, with items donated by community businesses and residents, are held during the event each year, and corporate sponsorships of salon stations were available for $250 for a two-week display, she said. A tandem fundraising event was held Sept. 6 at Sonoma's, a sports bar and grill in Owen Brown that donated a portion of its proceeds that evening to Looks for Life.

Helen Baxter-Southworth, an Ellicott City resident and longtime family friend who served as a greeter at Sunday's salon fundraiser, said the event remains integral to Petersen's ongoing recovery.

"This event redirects some of Marilyn's grief energy," she said. "It's good for her to carry on in his name."

DeChirico, said she "had an epiphany" while meeting with salon personnel. The salon started with five stylists and now has 30; total number of employees, including operators and support staff, is 65.

" 'You all are on the front line,' I told them. 'You hear people's problems first,' " she had said. "Everyone needs to be willing to ask questions. Most people who think about dying by suicide talk about it first."

DeChirico said Looks for Life tells the story of "a community continuing to heal and to learn."

Petersen concurred.

"That first year we were obviously devastated, but we wanted to move forward," she said. "We're blessed to be able to continue to host this event and we'll be back again next year, looking for community support."

To contact Grassroots, call 410-531-6006 or go to grassrootscrisis.org. Crisis hotline (24 hours) is 410-531-6677.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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