Benefit concert in Virginia promotes suicide prevention, awareness

Friends Helping Friends benefit adds Friday night kickoff party


VIRGINIA – The 3rd Annual Friends Helping Friends benefit concert will rock the Miners Memorial Building in Virginia a week from Saturday on April 21. In a way, it all started when organizer Lee Aultman’s life was irrevocably changed nearly six years ago when he lost his “big little brother” Terry.

The cause of death on that fateful April 29? Suicide.

Suicides are the 10th-leading cause of death nationally with more than 44,000 deaths in 2017. In Minnesota, there were 730 suicides reported, which equates to exactly one suicide every 12 hours. With the stigma surrounding suicide, the actual numbers are likely quite higher due to underreporting. Males are three-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide than females. Specifically, middle-aged white males have the highest rate of suicide.

It all hit close to home for Aultman.

“It’s really true when I say not many people want to talk about it, but when you do, it’s amazing how many people have been affected (by suicide),” he said. “Everybody has a story.”

Aultman has always been a huge fan of live music. His dad was a musician, as are his brothers Marvin and Larry, and two of his three daughters have musical careers in Nashville, TN. When a friend of his lost his wife and was going through difficult times three years ago, Aultman decided to hold a concert as a benefit for him. He called it “Friends Helping Friends.” After the first year, he decided he wanted to direct the fundraising towards what had affected him and his family so much—suicide.

“In a nutshell, (the concert) started from the fact that I love and support live music and wanted to bring an event to the community, and at the same time, I wanted it to be a fundraiser,” Aultman said. “The first year, I didn’t really have a platform, just a friend going through some hardships after the loss of his wife. Because of the loss of my brother to suicide, I was searching for someone I could donate the money to for suicide prevention, and I wanted to keep it local. That’s when I came across Iron Range Walk to Remember.”

It turned out to be the perfect fit. Iron Range Walk to Remember is an organization that also started three years ago with the intent to end the stigma tied to suicide, to remember those lost to it, to help those dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, and to be a support group for those affected by suicide.

According to their mission statement, “We are here to decrease the number of suicides through healing, awareness, and access to resources and help.”

Each September, the organization holds a walk in Virginia to remember those lost to suicide. According to one of the group’s founders Dano Zebro, this year it will be held on Sept. 8.

“We started it because we were losing friends and family, and people are scared to talk about it,” Zebro said. “For those who are left behind, we have a group of people who will connect with folks to help share the road.”

The group also is arranging to have a speaker to go into schools to talk to kids about ways to deal with life. If you are unable to attend the concert, you can still help Iron Range Walk to Remember, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, with their fight for suicide prevention and awareness by sending a donation to 9323 E. Goodell Road, Angora MN 55703.

The doors open at the Miners Memorial Building for the 3rd Annual Friends Helping Friends benefit concert at 6 p.m. next Saturday. Hairball, the popular Minnesota-based cover band, will again headline the concert, while local bands Psycho Jane and PourBoyz will open the evening starting at 7 p.m. The first 300 people in the door will be placed in a drawing for a S200 gift certificate to Boom- Town. Concert goers must be 18 years of age or older. (See poster on p. 13 for further information.)

Aultman hopes the event continues to grow. This year, the organizers added a Friday night kickoff party at the Miners to the schedule. That event will start at 6 p.m. and features three bean bag tournaments (coed doubles, open doubles, singles) for cash and other prizes, and a karaoke contest where the top three singers will get a chance to perform on the big stage Saturday night. The winner will open for Hairball. For a chance to win concert tickets and $50 gift certificates to BG’s Bar and Grill, pre-register for the tournaments by visiting www.facebook.com/friendshelpingfriendsbeanbags/ or at several area businesses.

“I have the goal of making it bigger and better in the coming years,” Aultman said. “We wanted to give a national concert feel at a local venue and give local and regional bands a chance to perform in front of a big audience.”

Ultimately, Aultman hopes the concert will get people to talk about what not a lot of people want to talk about, the elephant in the room that affects so many—suicide.

“Not only does this event raise money for the cause, but just having it raises awareness,” Aultman said. “It starts a conversation that needs to be had on how we can prevent suicide.”

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