Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Carson J Spencer Foundation Seed Funds Youth Entrepreneurs Working to Prevent Teen Suicide

By Emily Alvarez & Ginna Jones

Student Business Plan Competition Winners Announced

Morning Session Winners
Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen Fund, said, “My dream is to find individuals who take financial resources and convert them into changing the world in the most positive ways.” 

On Tuesday, February 16th high school entrepreneurs from across Colorado met at Johns Manville, A Berkshire Hathaway Company, to compete for seed funding in the 8th annual FIRE Within Business Plan Competition.

The FIRE Within empowers youth to build and launch revenue generating businesses that help prevent suicide in their communities. Students learn to identify primary causes of peer distress such as bullying or the pressure to succeed. They create innovative marketing campaigns and develop products or services that impact those issues in positive ways. FIRE Within students become empathic leaders who can talk about tough topics and make their school culture healthier, happier, and more resilient. The business and life skills they develop will help them succeed in college, career, and their personal lives.

 “I continue to be impressed by these students! They demonstrated a desire to understand issues related to causes of suicide and how significantly their communities are impacted by suicide,” said Peter Bernstein, Senior Private Client Advisor, VP, at Bank of the West. “They took the next steps by providing a tangible and profitable business model which was designed to inform, encourage, and ignite.”

During the competition students pitch their business plans to a panel of judges, including business, mental health, and educational leaders. Representing two divisions, 1st place awards went to Westminster and Columbine High Schools, 2nd place went to Highlands Ranch and Prairie View High Schools, and Green Mountain High School and HOPE @ Alpha Learning Academy took home 3rd place.

Afternoon Session Winners
Westminster High School students discovered that their peers struggled to balance stressors from school and home so they built Tees 4 Teens, a business that sells customizable shirts with inspirational messages. The shirts are part of a campaign to build positive coping skills and social awareness about local suicide prevention resources. Columbine High School students identified feelings of isolation and loneliness as primary causes of distress among their peers. In response, they launched Rebel’s Rally, which sells tumbler style water bottles that come with two friendship style bracelets and information on local mental health resources. Buyers keep one bracelet and give the other to someone who may be feeling alone, strengthening their school environment and making students feel more connected.

“The students’ teamwork and dedication toward their businesses really impressed me,” said Gina Olberding, Population Health Management Specialist at Pinnacol Assurance. “Their grasp of the underlying reasons for suicide thoughts was obvious, and they used that insight to engage their peers in innovative ways.”

For more information about how your community can get involved with the FIRE Within contact Ginna Jones or visit


About the Carson J Spencer Foundation - Sustaining a Passion for Living
The Carson J Spencer Foundation ( is a Colorado nonprofit, established in 2005.  We envision a world where leaders and communities are committed to sustaining a passion for living. We sustain a passion for living by:
  • Delivering innovative and effective suicide prevention programs for working-aged people
  • Empowering youth entrepreneurs to prevent suicide
  • Supporting people bereaved by suicide

The Carson J Spencer Foundation is the proud 2013 recipient of the “Small Nonprofit of the Year” award from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You’ve never seen your own face. It takes a mirror to get a clean shave.

By Mike Valentine, On Purpose Now

Photo by Alejandro Muñiz Delgado
Men can be by nature a “do it yourselfer”.  When it comes to problems we face in life there is often the question of “why can’t I just fix this myself”? The truth is we can. 

Many conventional methods of support for men actually turn men off.  There is an underlying and unspoken assumption we can’t solve things our self.  This undermines a man’s very nature as a producer, provider, and creator of life. 

Every man has a Gift to give, a Purpose to live and a Vision he’d build of a better self and world.  If he is told he is broken and can only be fixed by some other person, how can he find his Creative Self - build his confidence and fulfill his mission?  He can’t.  Rather, he starts to invest his faith in neediness and becomes repulsed of what he believes he has become.  Looking outside for what can only be found within is fools game.   Any sensible man knows you can’t get eggs at a dairy farm.  What he learns of himself looking for power, where there is none, is that he is foolish.  “Support” that teaches a man he is irrevocably needy disempowers him.  Most men know this deep in their hearts.

As a Life Purpose guide, I am often asked, “who needs a life coach”?  The truth is no one needs one.  What a man needs is inside him.  Your Purpose, if you aspire and commit to living it, will lead you to it, reveal itself to you, and direct you to the resources to make it happen.  It is already there, right under your nose.  If you have a good woman she is probably screaming at you “LOOK – IT IS RIGHT THERE!”

This is where it can get tricky.  Think about this for just a moment.  You have never seen your own face directly.  In order to see your face you have to use a mirror.  For most men their Gift, Purpose and Vision are a lot like this.  We’ve spent so much attention trying to measure up (for our dad, women, or other men) we can’t see our inherent nature as a creative resource for life.  Much like a fish doesn’t know and can’t see what water is, most men can’t see their real strength and power without a mirror or having someone help them look from outside the water.

As men, our interest is in the shortest path from point A to B.  If told we are broken and can’t make it, we will go it alone even if it means we have no back-up or support.  On the other hand, if we are shown a way to move with clarity, power and speed, we are eager to harness any measure of support, even if help is needed facing personal or emotional challenges.  We need only see how asking for help will lead us to the true strength inside and help us succeed in our purpose.  It is important to discern if help enables our neediness or empowers our true self.  When it empowers us from the inside out it leads us to our strength and helps us to live and express as the real men we are.


About the Author. Mike Valentine is Life Purpose Guide and pioneer of discovering and living On Purpose Now. Amidst dark shadows of life defining challenges, Mike Valentine activates the transformative power of Purpose to produce real results. With a strong backbone, kind heart, and direct approach, he has professionally coached people from all walks of life.  He has invested over 20,000 hours developing leaders, and scaled the ladder in three industries. His experience as an entrepreneur and corporate executive balance his training as a leader. In his own journey, Mike has 25 years of studying and practicing disciplines East and West, integrating physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual practices to pioneer his unique role as a Life Purpose Guide.  He loves to work with a direct approach and personal touch.  To schedule a Life Purpose consultation, call or email him directly at 303 842 6020. You can also visit to learn more.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cal Beyer: My Journey to Find Meaning After My Friend/Coworker's Suicide

By Emily Alvarez

Stories of lived experience can be used to fight the stigma of mental illness and suicide and to help get people involved in the movement. These journeys humanize the suicide prevention movement and help other people seek help. This series on lived experience is a great chance to highlight a loss survivor's story and the search for meaning after loss.

Cal Beyer is a friend of our CEO Sally Spencer-Thomas, as well as a friend to our organization. He lost a coworker last February and has been making meaning out of the loss ever since. As it is nearing the anniversary of his coworker's death, we wanted to share Cal's story of finding meaning through loss.

This is his story:

I lost a dear friend to suicide on February 23, 2015. His name was Jeff. He died at age 51. He left a wife and 3 grown adult children. He also left a family of loving folks and an army of friends who were all confused that Jeff had taken his life. Many of us knew that he was prone to periods of solitude and sadness. None of us understood he teetered on the brink of darkness and despair for so long.
I hired Jeff while working for a startup company. We worked together for approximately 7 years. We became great work friends and then personal friends. 
Jeff was a very large man standing 6”4”. Jeff was a “gentle giant”. His best qualities included a sense of humor that allowed him to have numerous nicknames that ranged from “Tiny” to “Big Dawg”. Jeff loved fishing. He was hooked on fishing. Fishing was probably his reason for living. It was his being. Fishing made Jeff come alive. Jeff loved sharing the gift of fishing with others.
Jeff was loyal and dependable. He was an exceptional teammate. He was the teammate that would do anything to help another be successful in their projects. He was smart and resourceful in a methodical way.
Jeff touched me early on by thanking me for appreciating him as a person and as a co-worker.
We quickly developed an effective working relationship that grew into a personal friendship. He is one of the men in my life I opened up the most to. Although I do not fish, and only did once with Jeff, we shared a deep friendship based on unconditional love. He accepted me and he never judged me. His love of my wife and children was touching as well. I knew if we ever needed “Big Dawg” he would be there regardless of the circumstance.
My kids loved Jeff because he took an active interest in them. He would always affirm the importance of me in their lives by saying things to them that showed Dad was talking about them at work and to his friends. These little affirmations showed me we were genuine friends early on.
We enjoyed playing practical jokes on others in the office. Some of these jokes were sophomoric (“fart machine” hidden in the office of our favorite target that had a remote control push button) and some were very sophisticated covert operations that took days to plan and execute (making a mini golf course in someone’s office complete with sand trap and water holes and oversized plastic kiddy golf clubs). These experiences would bring out the inner-child in Jeff and me. It made us laugh for hours and we’d reminisce about them for years after.
Jeff made me laugh more than any other man in my middle years. 
When he died, my own mourning was delayed as I first tried to be a calming influence on his family and then our former co-workers. I tried to build a bridge between Jeff’s family and our former co-workers. This is how I’m wired. I go into crisis mode and help others first and then deal with the issue over time and by myself.
I felt guilt initially. What if I hadn’t left the employment of the start-up and what if I had remained as his manager? Would I have seen this coming? Is there something more I could do? The fact is that I left in 2010 and Jeff and I remained in touch. Although I moved out of state we’d try to get together whenever I was in town.
The family’s openness at the funeral in discussing suicide and Jeff’s lifelong battle with mental health issues was a healthy catharsis. It allowed me and my family to process our grief without secrets. It allowed us to acknowledge how hard Jeff’s life must have been. It was helpful for me to know that Jeff was meeting with his Pastor on a weekly basis. 
When one of Jeff’s daughters read portions of my tribute of her father at the service it gave me a sense of closure that not everyone had. It was important to me that his family truly understood his importance in my life.
I loved Jeff and I know he knew it.
I honor Jeff by doing what I do best and that is being an industry thought leader. I have expanded my efforts in promoting mental health and suicide prevention. I write and speak about suicide prevention in his honor. I honor Jeff by praying for his family and staying in touch with them. I keep them informed of major activities and successes. I honor Jeff by reminiscing with others about the friendship we shared. I share the funny memories I have. I remember his smile and laughter. I whisper his name when I see people enjoying fishing. I get teary-eyed when I eat walleye which was his favorite fish.
Before Jeff’s death I was partnering with Sally Spencer-Thomas. I served with her since 2010 as inaugural members of the Workplace Task Force for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. In 2014 Sally invited me to return to the Workplace Task Force and lead an initiative for the Construction Industry on mental health and suicide prevention. When Sally invited me to join others at the White House to present on this topic at the “Dialogue on Men’s Health” in January 2016, I realized that I was truly making a difference. The nomination and subsequent appointment to serve on the Executive Committee for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention has further empowered me. This is an opportunity to speak from a larger platform to more broadly amplify the need for funding, recruit helpers and build partnerships on mental health and suicide prevention.
Jeff’s widow Jane has been remarkably graceful in sharing with me how proud Jeff would be of my efforts to help promote the cause of mental health and suicide prevention in the construction industry. She tells me that Jeff is proud of my fight for the underdogs and for bringing understanding to this cause.
For anyone impacted by suicide, I encourage them to grasp for hope. Rely on faith to find firm footing. Seek understanding and avoid judging and blaming. Accept reality. Forgive yourself for any spoken or unspoken words. Reflect on positive experiences and memories. Pay tribute to your relationship. Remember and honor their memory. Share openly and often with others. Stay connected with people and do not isolate. Uncork your emotions: let tears flow freely and frequently.
The effects of a suicide loss are long-lasting and far-reaching. Many survivors look for ways to make meaning out of their loss and celebrate the life of their loved one. There are many wonderful organizations that provide life-saving suicide prevention programming. The Carson J Spencer Foundation elevates the conversation to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Through a variety of prevention programs, Carson J Spencer Foundation is changing the face of suicide loss. Whether you partner with our organization or another, we encourage you to get involved. Giving a gift, in memory of a loved one lost, can help create the meaning that so many seek. For more information, please visit