Joanne Alt paced through a row of flowers Tuesday in the Garden of Angels, all smiles in a place she said is serene and healing for all kinds of people.
She touched the petals with a hand bearing a semicolon tattoo. The ink symbolizes Alt’s five years and counting of sobriety, her battle to overcome thoughts of suicide and the loss of her husband, Scott, who took his own life Oct. 28, 2014.
In hopes of providing a safe space for families to feel connected to their lost loved ones and educating fellow community members, Alt said she will open Garden of Angels for people to visit from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. on Sept. 21 and 22.
Her house is located at 11360 Highway 33 just west of Portage. This is Alt's fifth year of publicly running Garden of Angels.
“It’s about love. It’s about taking time to reach out to people,” Alt said. “To be aware of the signs and what they can do to help somebody. People just really want to be listened to. For us to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’”
A free suicide prevention training event will be held from 10-11:30 a.m. on Sept. 21, according to Columbia County Human Services. For more information, contact Susan Lorenz at 608-742-9265.
Attendees can bring photos of loved ones, walk through the garden, pick flowers and paint rocks.
On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services released a report stating the state’s suicide rate rose 40% between 2000 and 2017.
The department stated it would refocus its efforts to address suicide prevention and aim to reduce the number of deaths each year in Wisconsin.
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“In order to save lives, we must be unified in our suicide prevention efforts,” Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm said. “Suicide affects far too many Wisconsin families and communities and requires a comprehensive approach to prevention that addresses the range of factors contributing to an individual’s emotional pain.”
Prevent Suicide Columbia County is one local organization that strives to address suicide risks and aims to prevent deaths.
Northwest Connections also has a local presence, serving Columbia, Sauk, Dodge and Marquette counties, among others. The Columbia County Crisis line is 1-888-552-6642.
Alt said her upcoming training sessions will focus on three key areas: question, persuade, refer.
By asking questions and checking in on friends or family, people could end up saving a life, Alt said. The training is centered on this philosophy.
The free event also will teach about warning signs of suicide, such as a sudden change in personality or withdrawal from loved ones.
Donations at the event will support Prevent Suicide Columbia County. In 2018, Alt raised more than $1,200.
The article was updated to confirm the time of suicide prevention training.