“If we can make the difference in one person’s life or the life of one family, then we have already accomplished our goal.“
Dennis “DJ” Smith (2011)
The Lost & Found Association came to life in 2010 thanks to a team of soon-to-be college students committed to making a difference in the lives of peers struggling with depression and suicide. Lost & Found’s story is built on the shared values of co-founders Dennis “DJ” Smith and Kayla Roszkowski, who knew there was something missing in the battle against suicide.
Today, Lost & Found serves students on the campuses of The University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University, offering resource awareness programming and support communities for students at risk for depression and suicide.
Who knew an argument over Facebook would be productive?
16-year-olds Dennis “DJ” Smith of Mitchell, SD and Kayla Roszkowski of Dearborn, MI knew the value of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), an Orlando, FL-based suicide prevention organization, and its namesake program: writing “LOVE” on arms to remind anyone and everyone struggling with depression and suicidality that they are not alone. They found, however, that not everyone online believed writing “LOVE” on your arm would adequately help those who needed it most.
Inspired by TWLOHA and a Facebook argument over the merits of TWLOHA’s had pushed DJ and Kayla to take action. In February 2009, they created a simple Facebook group called “Doing more than writing ‘Love’ on my arm.” The intent? Organizing friends and peers to actively help people struggling with depression or suicide. What was expected to be a small team blossomed into 1,000 members in a year’s time, and each month, DJ and Kayla shared 4 goals for group members to achieve to reach someone suffering with depression or suicidal thoughts.
By May 2010, “Doing more” had over 3,600 members, impacted tens of thousands more, and achieved a national audience through presentations at the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) national conference and numerous high schools in DJ’s home state of South Dakota. Seeing the potential, DJ and Kayla teamed up with six other friends to form a South Dakota-based nonprofit called “The Lost & Found Association.”
Lost & Found initially focused its attention on two tasks. First, Lost & Found raised awareness and money for families dealing with a loved one who have either attempted or completed suicide. Second, Lost & Found helped colleges continue to provide free counseling or medication to students facing depression.
In the years that followed, DJ, Kayla, and a team of committed friends, volunteers, and student leaders would launch an associated network of student chapters at The University of South Dakota (2011), South Dakota State University (2012), and Dakota State University (2012). DJ and co-founder Erik Muckey would also reach hundreds more through speaking engagements at high schools and youth conferences throughout the upper Great Plains. A challenging argument, a simple Facebook group, and a desire for change in the world of suicide prevention turned into a ripple effect that will impact thousands of students and families around the country for years to come.
Lost & Found Today
DJ and Kayla did not know what they had launched in 2009. Lost & Found looks far different today than it did at its inception, but our founding team’s intent–helping young adults struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide–remains the driving force behind our organization.
Today, Lost & Found is a 501(c)3 nonprofit association of student leaders, counseling professionals, and campus and community leaders committed to building communities and people resilient to suicide.
The problems facing South Dakota–and the nation’s–next generation remain as staggering, if not more so, than in 2009. Currently, the second leading cause of death for young adults between 15 and 34 years old in the United States is suicide, and rates of suicide continue to rise. Suicide comes at a steep cost, both in economic terms ($1.3M per death) and in the untold grief for families and communities. Most importantly, risk factors for suicide are known yet not universally agreed upon, leaving local actors in a difficult position to understand what is the best way to address suicide.
Enter: Lost & Found. Our volunteers and staff train, oversee, and guide student-led chapters and their advisers at The University of South Dakota (USD) and South Dakota State University (SDSU) to help young adults find the community they need to overcome depression and suicide.
Chapter members and campus advisory boards partner together to deliver resiliency programs and actively build a community of support for young adults facing depression and suicide ideation. These programs are designed to increase help-seeking and create opportunity for connections and conversations with peers that will improve protective factors against suicide.
With over 50 members combined between the USD and SDSU chapters, the support of campus counseling centers and a variety of on- and off-campus partners, and a spirit of “doing more,” the Lost & Found story continues to unfold–and making a difference in one life and one family remains our goal. We are here, engaged, and believe in the power of community.