Youth suicide continues to be a major concern for community leaders in the Rapid City area, especially for Native American children and teens impacted by it.

The Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board recently announced it was awarded a $3.6 million federal grant for its Connecting With Our Youth Program.

The funding is distributed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and will be used to target Rapid City Area Native youth between the ages of 10 to 24 who are at risk of committing suicide.

Another step was taken Wednesday to set up a partnership between the program and the Rapid City Police Department. The city’s Legal and Finance Committee approved an authorization for the police department to receive $341,080.20 from the grant to fund a full-time school resource officer for the next five years.

Rapid City Police Sgt. Tim Doyle said the grant would allow the department to devote more resources to students who show signs of being at risk for suicide.

The grant funding will go before the Rapid City Council for final approval on Monday.

Doyle said the police department has already dealt with a few cases of youth suicide this school year.

“We deal with way too many suicides in this community,” he said. “This funding will allow us to give additional focus on the suicidal youth and when we start looking at these issues, we find there is a lot of trauma they may be dealing with.

“Our officers are good in the schools at building relationships with these kids, and they do build trust. So, they are going to dive deeper and work with the other positions that will come on through the school with this grant to help the kids who need it.”

Doyle said the issue of rising youth suicide rates in Rapid City concerns the police department and agencies like Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board.

“What this grant will do for the police department and the city is that it will pay for one school resource officer for five years,” Doyle said. “There is going to be additional focus on the suicidal youth. One thing about this is when we start digging in to these issues that the youth are dealing with that are causing the suicidal ideas, it's going to get to the source of a lot of other issues that the child is dealing with, whether that is trauma or whatever it is.

“We don’t want to have any of our kids in our community to feel that hopeless to where (suicide) is where they feel that is the only way out for them,” Doyle said. “We have a lot of kids who are hurting, and we need to get to those ones who are really at-risk so that we can prevent that from happening.”

The Connecting With Our Youth program is managed by Charles Sitting Bull, director of behavioral health for the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board.

In a previous news release, Sitting Bull said the $3.6 million grant will make a big difference in saving the lives of Native American youth.

“We are very excited to have been selected for this grant and to have this great opportunity to work with our collaborating partners in the Rapid City area to help prevent suicide among our native youth,” he said.

The grant funding for an additional school resource officer is only a piece of the program.

Sitting Bull said youth in the Rapid City Area have been struggling to navigate the epidemic of suicide that has impacted Indian Country, but he added the grant is supported by a coalition of health-care professionals.

“We have the largest number of collaborators ever in the history of our native community in Rapid City who we will be working together with on this grant,” Sitting Bull said in the news release.

The Connecting With Our Youth program began June 30 and will run through June 2024, Sitting Bull said.

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