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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 13, 2010

Forum follows suicide

By Saranac Hale Spencer

VOORHEESVILLE — Hearing other people’s memories of her son is helping Wendy Clark deal with his death.

Jerry Clark, a 17-year-old high school student took his own life on April 27, and several dozen people gathered in the village park on Monday evening to remember him.  The following night the school district held a forum on depression and suicide awareness.

“People have to be aware of what’s going on with their kids,” Clark said this week.  She suggested parents check Facebook and MySpace.  And, she said, “be very vigilant” about keeping communication open with teenagers.  “Don’t take a shrug of a shoulder as an answer,” she said.

The message was similar, delivered through PowerPoint, at the forum on Tuesday in the stark white meeting room of St. Matthew’s Church.  Eight million people in the United States have suicidal thoughts, Melanie Puorto, director of suicide prevention for the state of New York, told the group, and about 32,000 commit suicide every year.

“We think it’s a rare occurrence, but it’s not as rare as you’d think,” she said.

Roughly 40 people attended, many of whom are employed by the school, for the presentation by the county’s Suicide Prevention Education Committee.

School Superintendent Teresa Snyder was disappointed that there weren’t more people, she said yesterday, but was touched that some members of the community were there.  The neighboring district of Guilderland, which hosted a similar forum in the fall after a student suicide, offered contacts and support, Snyder said.

“The school really needs to be a place of healing for the children who are vulnerable in order to prevent suicide contagion,” she said, although she doesn’t consider it an imminent concern.  Of the school’s staff, she said, “We try to keep our ear to the ground… trying to keep kids on the radar and not let kids slip through the cracks.”

Jerry Clark had struggled with depression, which his parents tried to help him with, his mother said.  She noticed a change in his mood after football season and a further decline after he wasn’t permitted to wrestle, because he was suspended from school.

At Monday’s memorial, Clark said, “Everybody showed a lot of love for Jerry.”  One man, a father from Bethlehem, where Jerry Clark had also attended school, said that he not only liked watching his own son wrestle, but that “it was a joy to watch Jerry wrestle.”

He was a state qualifier and Class C champ as a sophomore at Voorheesville.

Another boy recounted how Jerry had listened to him, patted his back, and told him everything would be OK without ever mentioning his own problems.

Those stories gave his mother comfort.

 Ultimately, what’s important for kids to know, Clark said, is “Nothing is beyond being fixed.”

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