About three years ago, Dan Stevens saw an ad in the paper about a presentation that Deeatra Kajfosz was giving about suicide. Kajfosz was sharing her personal story of how she had reached her lowest point and did not want to go on living. “This is exactly what I am dealing with,” Stevens thought to himself.
It was a free program that was being held at a church. There would be a crowd, so Stevens, a 33- year-old Kewaskum native, felt like he would not be put on the spot. Stevens, who has dealt with depression his entire adult life and has had made numerous suicide attempts over the years, attended the program.
He heard Kajfosz’s message of hope and started going to the Life Of Hope program for help. And he is still alive today to tell about it. On January 24, 2001, Deeatra Kajfosz, a 27- year-old mother of two, attempted suicide. She survived the attempt, but kept her story to herself. Then, in 2014, Kajfosz lost a personal friend to suicide.
It was not an isolated case. In 2012, Washington County reported that 90 county residents had been hospitalized for self-inflicted wounds that year. Kajfosz decided she needed to do something about the suicide epidemic. She decided to speak out and share her story.
She wanted to help educate the public about suicide and try to prevent future tragedies. So in October 2014, the first organized meeting was held in Kajfosz’s dining room. In January 2015, Life Of Hope was officially created as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention. “Life Of Hope is about finding ourselves in those moments of brokenness, connecting with others to reconnect with that sense of hope,” Kajfosz said.
The program held meetings wherever it could find space. Groups would meet in the library, at a coffee shop or in Kajfosz’s home. In September 2015, Life of Hope moved into a physical office at 139 N. Main St., Suite 104, in West Bend. Over the past three years, Life of Hope has reached over 4,000 people.
The program offers awareness, education and support services. All programs are offered free of charge, and the program relies on charitable donations. “I’ve enjoyed watching the organization grow,” said Jim Shutes, who has served on the organization’s board since the beginning. “I’ve watched them evolve. It’s been a real treat, a wonderful ride.
It is a marvelous organization and wonderful, wonderful people.” Facilities The first thing most people notice when they step into the Life Of Hope office is the bright paint colors on the walls. Vibrant shades of orange, green, blue and purple are in each room. “We talk very little about suicide here. We talk about life.
We talk about hope. We talk about connections. And the colors are really a reflection of being able to connect with that vibrancy and being able to infuse a sense of color where sometimes it just feels really dark,” Kajfosz explained. In addition to the bright colors, symbols of hope can be found everywhere.
There are butterflies, hearts and inspirational messages throughout the building. Over the past three years, Life Of Hope has continued growing, and the office space has been added on two times. The expanded space was completed about three months ago. A classroom provides space for QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training classes. The classes teach individuals how to respond to a potential or existing suicidal crisis.
Those classes are also offered on site for businesses, churches, organizations and schools. The most recent addition includes office space for Amy Lynn Schultz, the stabilization support specialist. Schultz’s office has a very homy feel so that people who are in crisis feel comfortable.
Schultz meets with people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, those who may have survived a suicide attempt, as well as with people who have a loved one who is struggling or those who have lost someone to suicide. “They are able to face to face with someone who really understands,” Kajfosz said. The new space also includes a break room, which has a large table, refrigerator and storage space for food.
Like the other rooms in the building, the break room is filled with inspirational messages and symbols. “If we were meeting in a challenging situation with one of our guests, or if just one of us is having a difficult day, we didn’t have any place where we could go that wasn’t all about what was on our desks.
This may sound silly, but this is probably my favorite part just to give us something that is about our own mental wellness,” Kajfosz said about the new break room. Coordinating Programs Life of Hope offers a variety of programs for the community. For Dave Earhart, the support groups have been a lifesaver for his family. “Basically, Life of Hope has been here for us and for our daughter,” he said.
In addition, Life of Hope works with other organizations in the county to offer referral services. For example, Life Of Hope works closely with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Washington County to offer the AHA (Acceptance Harmony Affirmation) program. The AHA offers social activities for adults ages 18 and older to promote wellness.
In January, AHA started a walking group that meets on Monday evenings at the YMCA in West Bend. “Walking is a good way to battle depression and by walking with others we are forming a community,” said Kelley Hamann, one of the AHA cofacilitators. “We chose our night that we meet very carefully.
We actually chose Monday nights because Monday is the highest incidence of suicides,” Hamann said. Stevens is grateful for the walking group. “It creates a place to go to that kind of gets your mind off of the depression and suicidal thoughts so you are not talking about it,” Stevens said.
The AHA program would like to create other groups where there is interest. The groups could be centered around other topics such as poetry, creative writing, music, game night, a book club, volunteer work, creative writing, art therapy or yoga. “We are constantly listening and evolving and growing, if we see there is a need in the community,” Hamann said.
Getting Help For anyone who is dealing with depression, Life of Hope is there to help. “The people here came at me in a loving way about what do you need, how can I help you type of thing. There are no judgements here,” Stevens said.
Stevens has a wide network to help him. He has loving family members that have been supportive. He has medical doctors that have helped. And he has Life of Hope. “I’m just glad that an organization like this exists. especially this close to home,” Steven said.
For more information about the Life Of Hope program, visit www.lifeofhopeproject.org or call 262-429-1556. If you need help with a suicide crisis and live in Washington County, call the Washington County Crisis Line at 262-365- 6565. If you need help with a suicide crisis and live outside of Washington County, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.