Run to benefit student mental health programs

Some GW students regularly run at the Health and Wellness Center and around D.C. to get in shape and have fun, but they can soon run to help prevent suicide.

Run 5-4 Life, founded by sophomores Sarah Brown and Lauren Furmanek, is one of GW’s newest student organizations; the co-founders are working to prepare for the first ever GW five-kilometer run to benefit suicide prevention on March 5.

Students and faculty will have the opportunity to participate in the 5K race at East Potomac Park and help raise awareness about suicide, an issue that has become a problem on many college campuses. Brown and Furmanek said they got the idea for the event after they ran in a 5K race last fall. The D.C. Department of Mental Health sponsored the event.

“We felt good that we donated time,” Furmanek said. “Now, we want to share this feeling with the rest of GW.”

Furmanek noted that suicide has directly affected GW’s campus in the past two years. Three students have taken their own lives since February 2004.

“We have seen the effects of suicide on our campus and on other college campuses,” Brown, a Hatchet production assistant, said. “Suicide is not something that should be happening; college is supposed to be the best years of our lives. They should not be filled with stress and unhappiness.”

Just a few days after the D.C. mental health race, Brown and Furmanek met with Dean of Students Linda Donnels and proposed a plan for a race that would raise money and benefit a worthy cause.

“I commend Sarah and Lauren for their interest in this issue and for finding a healthy way to create awareness and fundraising for a worthy cause,” said Donnels, who helped the runners get their idea off the ground. Following recommendations outlined by a report on GW’s response to last year’s five student deaths, Donnels’ office has given additional resources to the University Counseling Center for mental health programming.

In addition to meeting with administrators at GW, Brown and Furmanek took their idea to the Jed Foundation, a suicide prevention group. All individuals wishing to participate in the race must pay a $15 minimum donation fee, which pays for a T-shirt. Organizations must donate at least $100 dollars to be recognized as sponsors. All proceeds will go to the Jed Foundation.

“In the U.S. today, three people a day are lost to suicide. It is important that young people spread the word about prevention before it is too late,” said Molly Wallac, a coordinator at the Jed Foundation. “Suicide prevention is not something that people think of giving money to unless they have lost someone, and I think it is a great idea that Lauren and Sarah have developed.”

Furmanek said they were originally looking to hold the 5K race or one-mile walk on campus, but according to zoning rules, buildings such as the GW Hospital and White House cannot be blocked.

“The police were very helpful; they directed Sarah and I to the East Potomac Park, where there happens to be a 5K trail that is already set up,” said Furmanek, who added that she and Brown have been informing GW students and faculty about the race through, e-mails and flyers in the Marvin Center.

To increase the amount of funding and awareness for suicide prevention, Brown and Furmanek have added Run 5-4 Life to the plethora of student organizations at GW. The co-founders will be holding meetings where they will discuss the upcoming event and put finishing touches on the day’s activities.

“At the meetings we hope that people will sign up to participate and help out at the event,” Brown said. “We also hope to get more sponsors.”

The GW Suicide Prevention Action Network has expressed interest in co-sponsoring the 5K race, and student organizations such as Alpha Epsilon Phi, the American Medical Student Association and GW’s cross country team are looking to help out at the event.

The first meeting of Run 5-4 Life will take place on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Marvin Center. All those interested in helping out or participating in the March run are encouraged to attend.

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