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On a spring day in 2016, more than 100 people filled the gym at Park High School in Livingston. Over a matter of a few weeks, four of their neighbors were gone as a result of suicide.

The gym became a gathering point to grieve. Days apart, two adults died by suicide. That came two weeks after news spread that two teenagers had killed themselves — a 17-year-old on Valentine’s Day and a 16-year-old a week later.

The town had to begin healing, school leaders told the crowd.

Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation, and has off and on for years. There were 55 people who died by suicide in Park County between 2007 and 2016 — that represents the fourth-highest rate among the state’s counties.

Two years after the school gym served as a refuge, people in Livingston and the surrounding area are still working to define what suicide prevention looks like and how to make sure the community is wrapped in that effort.

This winter, AMB West Philanthropies announced new grants to help build on what local organizations are doing for community wellness and youth suicide prevention.

Tawnya Rupe, program director of AMB West Philanthropies, said the associate-driven group has always focused on underserved families and children. It has awarded more than $4.6 million in grants in Montana since 2001.

She said roughly three years ago, AMB West saw an uptick of proposals specific to kids working through trauma.

“We really began to grapple with, we want to keep the early childhood [focus] because that’s so preventative to all of this,” Rupe said.

“But we’re seeing really time-sensitive, critical needs coming up with these kids in crisis situations.”

The grant’s goals include a stronger network of local organizations, improved parent support and outreach, and a better system for crisis response.

That focus largely came out of AMB community conversations in 2018 with nonprofits and Park County leaders outlining what they’re working toward.

Rupe said there’s a lot of services available in the area — there are 50 nonprofits of various sorts in the county. Butt she said they don’t always work together to build a wider foundation of services that people can navigate.

“Data and community voice is really how we’re engaging,” Rupe said. “We’re trying to work from a systemic level. We could maybe fund a few things right here right now. But if we don’t invest and get the community voice and get the buy-in, then it’s not going to be long lasting.”

For the data component and to chart what grant recipients define as success, AMB partnered with Child Trends, a national nonprofit research organization with a footprint in Montana.

Diane Early, senior research scientist with Child Trends, said some of Montana’s highest suicide rates, relative to other states, are for its youngest citizens. She said that calls for a response that goes beyond crisis intervention.

“Park County is small. You may go a year or two without a suicide, that doesn’t necessarily mean the problem has been fully addressed — that can’t be the one and only indicator,” Early said.

Early has begun working with some organizations based in Park County to craft grant proposals. She said each application should outline the problem being addressed, proposed efforts and expected outcomes.

There’s not a set cap for how many grants will go out. One-year projects focused on acute needs could receive up to $50,000. Multi-year projects on systemic issues could receive up to $150,000 a year for three years.

Grant applications are due Feb. 8. More information about the grant guidelines are available here or by visiting http://blankfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/AMB-West-Community-Fund-2019-Guidelines-and-How-to-Apply-FOR-WEBSITE-UNTIL-DEC-3.pdf.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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