Twenty-two veterans take their own lives each day according to a United States Department of Veterans Affairs study.
Students in College of the Canyons’ Civic Engagement Club’s Veteran Committee brought awareness to the issue through a four-day visual display on the school’s Canyon Country campus.
Conceptualized by student veterans Christopher Borja and Christopher Sebring, both wounded during their military service, the display included a collection of WWII military helmets, dog tags, uniforms, boots, flags and religious symbols.
“We based it at the Canyon Country campus since it does not have a lot of foot traffic and I know this is the biggest display they’ve had on their campus,” Borja said.
The club thought it was important to put a religious element behind the display because the topic of suicide “is bigger than one religion, said Desi Angelo Aleman, president of COC’s Civic Engagement Club.
Borja, who recently retired from the U.S. Army, spent 19 months in the hospital recovering from injuries and said the topic of veteran suicide hits close to home.
“Veteran suicide is a very personal event in my life with dealing with it myself,” he said. “I wanted to give back to the community and the people that helped support me and keep me alive.”
More than 150 students, faculty and staff pinned handwritten notes of gratitude, love and support to a cross draped with an American flag.
“Within the four days, we were able to have it up for 16 hours total,” Borja said. “We have 164 cards, which equals out to one card every 90 seconds.”
Mental health professionals from COC’s Student Health and Wellness / Mental Health program were also present during the display’s 16-hour duration provide services to those who needed them.
Borja and Angelo Aleman said the display would not have been possible without contributions from American Legion, Mission 22 and local military families.
“Without the community we could not do what we could do,” Angelo Aleman said.
The students videotaped public responses to the display to create a larger video project about veteran suicide awareness.
“I am going to make a lateral video promoting this and try to share it over the internet to make it go viral and reach more hearts and save more lives,” Borja said.
Overall, the students hoped the display would raise awareness and help save lives.
“Our whole goal was to touch one person and I think it’s valid to say that we touched 164 hearts this week,” Borja said.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_