If you ask someone who knows Lisa Ellison, they will tell you she is a caring, dedicated, and compassionate person who does nothing halfway, and is always willing to lend a hand.  As a graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, Lisa has shown her relentless devotion to community building, dedication to learning, commitment to working together and inspiring others. As one of her professors notes, Lisa is an outstanding example of the “power of one” which can be seen through the work and community service she has completed to build the community and aid suicide prevention efforts.  She goes above and beyond in all she endeavors to do, and it is a great pleasure to recognize her here today.

Lisa is currently completing her third and final year in her graduate program here at JMU, and has served as an indispensable source of compassion and caring through various programs, publications, and activities dedicated to mental health counseling and suicide prevention.  Lisa draws on her own experiences of coping with her brother’s suicide to share with others and spread the word that there is help available to those who need it.  One of the ways that she has done this is through organizing the Out of Darkness Walk for the American Federation for Suicide Prevention.  Now in its second year, the walk, to be held on April 22, has already raised over $7,000 in donations for suicide prevention programs, survivor resources, and research in the area of suicide prevention.  This walk gathers the people in the community and spreads awareness about suicide prevention and the resources that are available.  Lisa’s leadership in organizing and implementing the event has made the walk a great success and also was the first such walk to take place in the Shenandoah Valley.

Before the first Out of the Darkness Walk last year, Lisa started the event with a speech about her experiences coping with the suicide of her brother.  She described the difficulties she had and the ways in which she was able to deal with the devastation and learn to spread awareness of suicide and the resources for suicide prevention.  At the end of her speech she addresses the crowed and encourages them to “be present and listen” to those in need, and ask for or offer help and hope to those who need it.  This speech, which is one of many that she has delivered to spread suicide awareness, demonstrates her caring and compassionate attitude and willingness to help and inspire others.

For Lisa’s Education Specialist Research Project, she chose the topic of suicide prevention and wrote an extensive report detailing the planning, organization and evaluation of the Out of the Darkness walk. Dr. Lennis Echterling, one of Lisa’s professors and the chair of her project describes Lisa’s project as a “valuable contribution to the field of counseling.” He notes that her organizational skills, dedication to learning and compassion for those with serious psychiatric disorders contributes to and is demonstrated by her success in her academic endeavors.

Lisa is very active in promoting mental health and suicide prevention in other ways as well. Lisa and another student compiled a 98 page directory of the mental health resources available in the area, allowing those in need to more easily access these resources and prevent tragedies from occurring in other people’s lives.  Additionally, Lisa also helped to organize the Summer Institute in Counseling and chose an unpaid volunteer position instead of a paid internship last year in order to do more meaningful counseling work. These activities demonstrate Lisa’s dedication to working together and learning, as well as building the community in her own unique way. Lisa’s contributions to these projects are also one reason that she received the Department of Graduate Psychology award for outstanding service in 2010.

According to Lisa’s husband, Mark Ellison, the aspects of Lisa’s personality that make her a great student, counselor, leader, and empathetic person are nothing new.  Lisa, originally from upstate New York, worked as a special education teacher in Louisville, Kentucky before moving to Harrisonburg.  As a teacher, Lisa developed a highly successful system of rewarding the students for good behavior that led the school to discuss implementing the process school wide.  She also made a point to attended PTA meetings, representing her fellow teachers and contributing to building the community of teachers and parents in the school.

Lisa’s consideration, leadership, organization, and dedication to serving others have made her an inspiring and much admired person in the community.  Her selfless efforts for to spread suicide awareness and prevention and the promotion of mental health are worthy of our esteem and deserve to be acknowledged.  Please join me in recognizing Lisa Ellison as a recipient of this year’s All Together One Award.

Written by: Emily Dallas

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