Cheyenne Wilton is inspired to help her peers. She is familiar with the studies showing suicide as a leading cause of death among her college-aged peers. Suicide rates are on the rise nationwide.
It's a trend she and her classmates at Saginaw Valley State University hope to play a role in reversing when they engage in a week-long, community-minded fundraising competition to benefit suicide awareness and prevention.
“It's really important that we are trained and looking for the signs and that we know how to help and what to do in those situations,” said Wilton, chair of SVSU's Battle of the Valleys fundraiser.
During the annual fundraising competition, students at SVSU and Grand Valley State University capitalize on the schools' football rivalry to see who can raise the most money for each institution's respective selected charity partner. Students will raise the funds during a series of activities scheduled Sunday to Friday, Oct. 21-26.
For SVSU, the student-led effort will support the Barb Smith Suicide and Response Network. The Saginaw-based nonprofit works to prevent suicide, educate communities and provide no-cost, 24/7 aftercare for those affected when prevention is not possible. Students lead a variety of events and activities on campus and in the community throughout the week to generate donations.
The fundraising total will be announced at halftime of the SVSU vs. GVSU football game hosted Saturday, Oct. 27, at Harvey Randall Wickes Memorial Stadium.
Wilton, a creative writing major from Ortonville, and other students coordinating the week-long initiative hope to raise $40,000 this year.
Caitlin Coulter, president of the SVSU Student Association, was the chair of last year's Battle of the Valleys effort at SVSU, which netted $32,000 for The Mustard Seed Shelter in Saginaw. The biology major from Clio remains actively involved.
Coulter said she expects a great deal of student interest for this year's competition in part because the football matchup with GVSU that caps off the week will be played at SVSU.
“The whole campus gets involved, and it's great,” Coulter said. “We have been planning since last May. This year especially we have had a lot of alumni involvement and a lot of interest in donating or participating, so that's exciting.”
Battle of the Valleys began in 2003, and over the past 15 years, the contest has generated $601,282 in charitable donations between the two universities. SVSU has contributed $389,444 of that total.
Donations can be made at campus fundraising events or through a donation link on SVSU's Battle of the Valleys website at svsu.edu/battleofthevalleys/makeadonation/ between noon on Oct. 21 and midnight Oct. 26.