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Friend's suicide motivates Moorhead student to help others who are struggling

Lucia Smith is dedicated to talking to young people about depression and is organizing a walk to raise money for suicide prevention. David Samson / The Forum

MOORHEAD - A year ago, Lucia Smith was going through a low point in her young life.

The Moorhead High School senior was depressed and struggling at school and at home. Then, a month and a half ago, one of her friends, Chris, a junior at an area school, died by suicide. She had known him since she was 5 years old, she said.

She was struck by how she struggled with the same emotions as he had.

"It was a really rude awakening for everyone who knew him, but especially for me. It was a really huge wake-up call. I felt almost compelled to do something about it because I couldn't stand knowing that he felt that way," Smith said.

Her answer was to work with fellow students to create the "Hope. Save. Ignite." walk, which takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday at Lindenwood Park in Fargo.

Money raised from the walk will go to To Write Love On Her Arms, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing suicide and treating addictions, depression and self-harming behaviors such as cutting.

There is a suggested donation of $10 per person for the two-mile walk, expected to last 45 minutes to an hour.

"I kind of wanted to spread the message that you can do something and you can help people feel loved, before they take that step (to harm themselves)," she said.

It's not the only way Smith has been active.

On Wednesday, she was part of a Students Against Destructive Decisions group speaking at Horizon Middle School, educating younger students about the destructive effects of bullying.

This coming Tuesday, she'll also tie her work to Moorhead School District's "Get Louder" day, which encourages students to take an active stand against bullying.

The "Hope. Save. Ignite." walk is part of To Write Love On Her Arms' national "The Storytellers" project. Having her project accepted by the group was a huge boost, Smith said.

"It's been incredible already, just how many people have come up to me, telling me things that they've gone through, telling me about their friends that have gone through this stuff, and how this project is helping them, and how they've realized how they're so passionate about it," Smith said.

Scott Matheson, a student assistance counselor/coordinator for the district, is Smith's adviser for the project.

He said the district is excited to see Smith leading the initiative.

"What we're seeing among students is that a lot of the high school students have either someone they know personally, or they themselves, have wrestled with those weighty issues," he said.

Smith said she wants people to pay attention to others around them, and help those who are struggling.

"As cheesy as it sounds, I want everyone to realize that everyone's going through a battle, and your interaction with them every day could be the best moment of their day. It could be the only time that they're smiled at. It could be the only time someone talks to them," she said.

"I want people to take advantage of how much power they have, that they can have in somebody's life, and I want people to know how it really affects people of all ages," Smith said.