Award emphasizes ‘Power of One’ to prevent suicide

WELLINGTON COUNTY – If there are people in the county making extraordinary efforts to promote mental health and prevent suicide, Cecilia Marie Roberts wants to hear about them.

Roberts is the project lead for Here4Hope, the county’s life-promotion and suicide-prevention initiative, and she’s hoping to see lots of nominations over the next month for the project’s Neil Dunsmore Power of One Award.

“This is one of those ways that we try to remind people that everybody has a role to play,” Roberts said of the award.

The annual honour is named for a former Centre Wellington councillor who in 2020 walked the more than 500-kilometre distance from Elora to Ottawa to raise awareness and funds for local mental health initiatives, inspired in part by a couple whose son had died by suicide.

“I was so worried about him when he was doing this walk,” Roberts recalled, noting that the journey was both physically and mentally demanding.

Roberts connected with Dunsmore regularly by phone during his walk, dubbed Steps to Stop the Silence. He would describe some of the remarkable conversations he had with complete strangers on his route as he worked to open up dialogue about mental illness and suicide.

Looking back on the experience, Dunsmore said there were many days when, plagued by physical pain and long periods of isolation, he thought he would give up.

“But there was always someone to reach out to change my focus and reinforce my goal,” Dunsmore said in an email to the Advertiser.

“There were even times where a complete stranger would stop and ask what I was doing and offer help, and there were times where I had to stop and help complete strangers,” he wrote.

“Those moments reinforce for me that, at any given time, it is impossible for us to be everything to everyone but, at any given moment, it is easy for us to be everything to someone.

“That is the incredible Power of One, one individual at one moment in time, just by connecting with someone who is struggling, can make all the difference in the world.”

“It underscored to me the difference that one person can make,” Roberts said.

The Power of One award, presented each year on Sept. 10 – World Suicide Prevention Day – recognizes individuals “whose actions have made a significant contribution to promoting life and preventing suicide.” 

Past recipients include

Myrna Hutchinson, who started #GetInTouchForHutch, a project aimed at encouraging young people to seek help for mental health challenges; and Lynn Brandwood, who started multiple charity events to support the Grove Youth Wellness Hub in Fergus.

Brandwood and Hutchinson each lost a son to suicide. Hutchinson’s son Steven died in 2013, and Brandwood’s son Michael died in 2016.

A third award recipient was the Centre Wellington Minor Lacrosse Association, which went to lengths to stay connected with its members during pandemic lockdowns, and even put together online webinars dealing with topics like mental health and diversity and inclusion.

“We were really touched with what they did to include all kids during COVID,” Roberts said. “They took what they could offer and they made it count.”

She said for people to qualify for the award, they don’t have to have walked 500 kilometres or have raised thousands of dollars; they just have to have done something that counts for someone.

The award is “an opportunity to lift up people who have done something significant, but I want to underscore that it doesn’t have to be a huge act,” Roberts said.

Suicide prevention often starts with a conversation, she said.

And conversations that can deescalate the feelings of pain and hopelessness that lead to thoughts of suicide don’t always involve mental health experts.

“People tend to talk to people close to them before they would engage to talk to a professional,” said Roberts. “Having people who are ready, willing and able to have these conversations is a big part of preventing suicide.”

She is hoping to see some nominations from people who say things like “my mom, or my sister, I couldn’t have done it without her,” Roberts. “Everybody can make a difference for somebody.”

Nominations for the award are open until Aug. 16. More information about the award and a nomination form can be found online at 

The Here4Hope website also includes more information about the initiative and resources related to suicide prevention.

Those in crisis can access mental health services round the clock through the Here 24/7 hotline, 1-844-437-3247 (HERE247) or the website,