James Madison University

JMU’s Alpha Sigma Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota Wins International Award

PHOTO: Chi Sigma IotaChi Sigma Iota, the international honor society for the counseling profession, announced yesterday that James Madison University’s Alpha Sigma Chapter is the 2012-2013 recipient of the Outstanding Chapter Individual Program Award. The prestigious honor recognizes the exceptional achievement of our chapter in hosting the annual Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.  This highly successful event raises funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and promotes resilience among families who have experienced the profound tragedy of the loss of a loved one to suicide.

Representatives of the JMU Alpha Sigma Chapter will receive the honor during the Awards Ceremony of the American Counseling Association Annual Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio on Friday, March 22, 2013.  Debbie Sturm, faculty advisor of the Alpha Sigma Chapter, and Janice Mentzer Lewis, chapter president, submitted the nomination materials for the award.  

Lisa Ellison, a graduate of JMU’s Counseling Programs, coordinated the first two Out of the Darkness Campus Walks, which one of the award nominators described as “a wonderful integration of dedication, advocacy, clinical sensitivity, scholarship, and organizational effectiveness.”  Last year’s event included over 300 walkers, some traveling from as far away as Alabama. Representatives from local support groups for survivors of suicide, mental health agencies, and JMU fraternities banded together to help make this event so successful. Donations of over $16,000 went to help the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with their vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives, increase national awareness about this problem, and provide support for survivors of suicide loss.

The Alpha Sigma Chapter decided early on that they would organize an event with a mission that went far beyond fund-raising.  They committed themselves to the challenge of designing a program that would also promote resilience.  Therefore, they enriched the entire experience by developing activities to facilitate positive meaning making for the participants throughout the event.  For example, the opening ceremony included an inspiring story by a survivor who shared her experience of dealing with the suicide of her brother.  As participant said, “Having someone tell their own story was really, really beautiful…just to feel like you’re not alone.”

This year’s Walk will take place on Sunday, April 21.  We are enormously proud of JMU’s Alpha Sigma Chapter for making a profound difference in the lives of many families who previously have been marginalized and forced to bear their grief in silence and shame. We cannot think of a more deserving chapter to be honored with this award!