A Lower Kuskokwim School District social worker received a national award this week in Washington D.C. for his work in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta on suicide prevention.
James Biela is an itinerant Social Worker for LKSD, frequently traveling out to Newtok, Tununak, Toksook Bay, Nightmute, Mekoryuk, and Nunapitchuk to hold trainings and lectures on suicide prevention.
He received the Sandy Martin Grassroots Award, given out to three members of the national American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, for work in grassroots programs. Beila is a volunteer and the founder of the AFSP Alaska Chapter.
Winning the award was an honor, says Biela, an honor he was not prepared for.
“Actually, I was totally shocked that I’d be receiving this award. I didn’t have anybody giving me a heads up,” said Biela. “I feel it’s an honor, but it was also a sad time because one of my friends out in a village, before I got on the plane, died by suicide.”
For Biela, the news underscored his life’s work.
“It gives you more power to do more,” said Biela. “Actually, this year I was very fortunate to have a young man from Newtok, an Alaska Native, come with me to Washington D.C. to talk to the congressional leaders about suicide. But on this one it just makes our work more important. To be the voice about how suicide can be prevented and get the congressional leaders in D.C. to listen.”
And they did just that. They sat down for twenty-five minutes with Senator Dan Sullivan and Senator Lisa Murkowski, discussing village suicides in the YK Delta.
“I know everybody needs to pitch in with the leadership that they can afford to understand our needs,” said Biela.
That’s especially important now, said Biela, with the ongoing healthcare debate and the possibility that mental health care will be cut out of the budget.