FirstLink 2022 Winter Newsletter

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Winter 2022


TRAINING UPDATES In 2021, we celebrated a return to in-person training while continuing to provide online training options. We have completed 85 trainings (and counting) so far this year, educating more than 5,800 participants on FirstLink, mental health awareness, and suicide prevention. We also provided our Suicide Education Outreach (SEO), which is a training geared towards 7th, 8th, and 9th grade students. SEO teaches statistics, debunks common myths, and provides a safe space for students to ask questions about suicide. In 2021, we reached about 1,265 students with this training and engaged in healthy conversations regarding mental health, suicide, and resources available to our community. The FirstLink team didn’t stop there. We contributed at least 60 hours to booth events across the state. Booth events have been a necessary resource to spread awareness of FirstLink and the services we provide. Some of the events we attended this year

include the Fargo Police Community Picnic & West Fargo Night to Unite, Fargo’s Pride in the Park & Minot’s Pride in the Streets, MSUM’s Resource Fair & Take Back the Night, and the Out of the Darkness Walk. Looking ahead, FirstLink has ambitious goals to surpass this year’s training numbers. We are thankful for our amazing community partners and the grants that have allowed us to offer discounted or free training to the public. If you want to know about upcoming training events, please visit or join our email list.

Save the DATE Giving Hearts Day 2022 is fast approaching on Thursday, February 10! Last year, FirstLink raised over $34,000 on Giving Hearts Day. Our goal in 2022 is to raise $40,000 for people in need of support and resources. In 2020 and 2021, FirstLink experienced unprecedented growth in call volume as people reached out for resources for financial support, information on COVID testing and vaccines, emotional support due to isolation, increased substance use, and thoughts of suicide. We hope you can help us reach our goal of $40,000 so we can be there to support all people in need of resources, connection, and hope.

A letter from Executive Director

JENNIFER ILLICH FirstLink’s core value is to be ready, willing, and able to answer our phone lines 24/7. From 2020 to 2021, our call volume increased by more than 10,000 contacts. We heard strenuous stories of COVID, relationships that were lost, and job hardships. But we also heard stories of recovery, new love, and new ambitions to succeed in life. We trained thousands of community members on behavioral health, suicide warning signs, and how to make a safety plan. We expanded our community directory of resources and made sure all 5,500 services were updated this year. We are working closely with the Human Service Centers across North Dakota to be able to screen and deploy mobile crisis staff to meet people where they are at. We are forming partnerships with emergency departments and local law enforcement agencies as we all work together to meet the needs of our neighbors. This is just a small portion of what we’ve accomplished as a team over the past year. I


STORIES 211 is such a great resource,” one caller said. “I give your cards out to anyone who will listen. FirstLink is crucial in my support system,” said another caller. “They are extremely helpful. The follow up from the Care & Support team and other staff helps me through when I need it. One caller was battling COVID-19. FirstLink helped the caller get connected to support and talked with them often. Eventually the caller told us, “You’re a big part of my life.

am so proud of our staff, board, stakeholders, and community members who are working together to help stop suicide. Only together can we prevent suicide. That’s why, in 2022, we plan to hold three events to stop the stigma of behavioral health and encourage our neighbors to reach out for help. Additionally, FirstLink is once again participating in Giving Hearts Day on February 10. Please consider donating to FirstLink this Giving Heart Day; the phone call that you sponsor could save a life. Thank you for your ongoing support,

Jennifer Illich Jennifer Illich

Executive Director

Care and Support


The FirstLink Care and Support Program had an exciting year, with over 10,000 contacts to individuals. We were able to reach over half of the patients referred; of those, 63 percent accepted ongoing follow-up support calls. Our dedicated team of call specialists build trust and empower participants to advocate for themselves when meeting with providers. We also help individuals identify resources that support their needs, addressing barriers to recovery and strengthening their network of support. We know this makes a difference because for every successful contact we have, only around 2 percent involve crisis intervention. In 2021, we had only two crises that resulted in rescue being sent, meaning we successfully de-escalated and planned for safety without the need for rescue more than 98 percent of the time. FirstLink partners with clinics and hospitals throughout the region to provide follow-up support to patients at risk for suicide or a substance-related emergency. Individuals may also be referred when they call through the helpline.


Team Update My name is Michele Swanson and have worked at FirstLink for 7 years. I joined the Database team this past June as a Community Resource Specialist. I have enjoyed supporting our community by making sure that they receive resources that are accurate and updated to serve their needs. Prior to this new role on the Database team, I had the privilege of serving the Care & Support team for six years. I love being part of someone’s journey, finding ways to improve their current situation and letting them know that they are not alone. Together, we can make a difference.

Michele Swanson

Community Resource Specialist

My name is Kesha Sauvageau and I am the Community Outreach Coordinator at FirstLink. I took on this role in June 2021 and have already learned so much about mental health awareness and suicide prevention. I recently graduated from North Dakota State University and am currently attending graduate school for Marriage and Family Therapy at Capella University.

Kesha Sauvageau

I’ve been working with FirstLink since October 2020, and I knew early on that I wanted to expand my work with FirstLink. I quickly applied for the Outreach position, as it combines my passions for training and mental health. I look forward to growing in the Outreach position and strive each day to offer trainings that help create suicide-safer communities.

Community Outreach Coordinator My name is Chelsy Black. I started full-time as a Community Resources Specialist with FirstLink in 2021. I am also a proud fur mom of four (two dogs, a cat, and a ferret) and I am currently pursuing my Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Wellness, so between work, school, and my personal life I am very busy. I first started with FirstLink as an intern. I parted ways with FirstLink after my internship, but as time went by, I realized that I missed being able to help people, as well as the caring and supportive environment FirstLink offered. I think that what we do at Firstlink is incredibly important because we provide people with resources as well as a listening ear to help them get through difficult situations and feelings. Firstlink has helped me learn firsthand how to create a professional connection with different people and allowed effective training on how to help those in need.

Chelsy Black

Community Resources Specialist

4357 13 Ave. S., Suite 107L Fargo, ND 58103










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