Olathe Northwest senior Cameron Jones was recognized Monday for her work to raise awareness about suicide prevention with an award from the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards as a Distinguished Finalist for Kansas.
The program honors middle and high school students from each state as part of the nation’s largest award recognition for young volunteers and outstanding acts of volunteerism.
Jones, 17, established an annual golf tournament and auction, which has raised more than $30,000 during the past three years for suicide prevention organizations in the Kansas City area, after two ONW students committed suicide two days apart in 2014.
That’s when Jones’ commitment to the cause of suicide prevention, and her vision for the tournament, was born.
It was during her freshman year at ONW and, while Jones didn’t know the students well, she was profoundly affected by their deaths and the acute impact it had on the entire school community.
“I saw how affected everyone was,” Jones said. “Everyone was silent. They didn’t know what to do. Today, friends of the students who died are still not over it. I thought if we could start to raise awareness, we could prevent it later on.”
Jones decided to be that student who raised awareness, but, as with many of her peers, she found the process of broaching the topic and having open conversations about suicide initially challenging.
“I’m not going to say talking was easy for me either,” Jones said. “There’s a stigma about suicide. But seeing what my peers were going through, and that no one wanted to talk, pushed me out of my comfort zone. The longer I’ve been working on the project, the easier it’s become.”
Jones’ project has been the annual golf tournament and auction.
The motto of her organization is “Prevention Today for a Greater Tomorrow.” For nine months during each of the past three years, Jones has dedicated extensive time and effort to see her vision for a greater tomorrow transformed into reality.
“Her hard work has paid off,” said Scott Jones, Cameron’s father. “I’m so proud of her.”
The event, which takes place annually at Falcon Ridge Golf Club, has netted $10,000 after expenses each of the past three years. The money has been donated to the Kansas City Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Tom Carlin Foundation, a local suicide prevention organization.
“Cameron is proactive and gets things done,” her mother, Lisa Jones, said. “When she was in elementary school, I would ask her nightly about her homework — if she’d finished it and if everything was ready for the next day.
“Then, one night when she was in fifth grade, I asked her the same question. She said, ‘Mom, I know what I need to do and I get it done.’ Since then, I have watched her do just that. She sees what needs to be done and does it.”
According to Lisa, Cameron understood, from the beginning, the level of details and planning required to host a successful tournament.
“She worked tirelessly and was bold,” Lisa said. “She went places daily asking for auction donations.”
During the process of soliciting donations, Cameron also learned just how far-reaching the heartache of suicide is.
“When I’m out getting donations, nine out of 10 people I talk to have known someone who has taken their life,” Cameron said. “Suicide affects so many people.”
Jones will head to Kansas State University in the fall to study business administration. Intent on continuing her work to prevent suicide, the annual golf tournament has been transitioned into a benefit gala and auction, which will be held in August.
“Cameron is the epitome of what ‘youth in action’ looks like,” Olathe Northwest Principal Chris Zuck said at Monday’s ceremony during which Jones was presented an engraved bronze medallion. “The most important piece here is that Cameron saw a need. With others’ help, she found a way to address that. It is wonderful that a student with a passion for something saw that need and followed through.”
The “Prevention Today for a Greater Tomorrow” gala is scheduled for Aug. 11 at the Venue in Leawood, 4800 W. 135th St. For more information about donating to the auction or attending the event, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.