Volunteerism is Passed Down Through Generations

Volunteering is a family affair for Kathy Salm, who serves as board president and volunteer donation coordinator for the Center for Suicide Awareness.

RSVP volunteer, Kathy Salm, was instrumental in organizing the first Walk for Suicide Awareness. This year's event is set for Sept. 16 at Hydro Park in Kaukauna.
RSVP volunteer, Kathy Salm, was instrumental in organizing the first Walk for Suicide Awareness. This year’s event is set for Sept. 16 at Hydro Park in Kaukauna.

Her husband, Bob, is the emcee for the agency’s annual suicide awareness walk. Her daughter, Karen, posts items on the agency’s social media sites and Karen’s husband, Justin, designed and maintains the agency’s Web site. Her sister, Nancy, who passed away in May, wrote letters to donors.

“Both my parents were huge volunteers, so I kind of grew up with it,” Salm said. “I think we’re saving the organization so much money. We also are improving the quality of life of the community. Even if it’s one hour a month, I wish everyone would volunteer.”

The Walk for Suicide Awareness that is set for Sept. 16 at Hydro Park in Kaukauna was coordinated around Salm’s kitchen table in 2010. Salm said she met Barb Bigalke, the founder and executive director of the Center for Suicide Awareness, who wanted to bring attention to the growing number of suicides. Salm, her daughter, Karen and Bigalke planned the first suicide awareness walk. The trio planned it without a budget. No one had any experience in event planning.

She remembers thinking, “What happens if no one shows up?”

Despite a cold, driving rain on the day of the event, 800 people participated. Folks came from northern Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois.

“They couldn’t even sign up it was so wet,” Salm recalls.

“I don’t know how they heard about us – our first registration was on paper.”

She spoke with one group of participants in that first event who wore T-shirts that had three pictures screen-printed on them. They were remembering three generations of family members who had taken their own lives: a grandfather, uncle and brother.

“It’s kind of sad for people who think killing themselves is the answer,” she said. “There are reasons not to. Barb (Bigalke) and the organization provides those answers. Suicide is becoming more acceptable to talk about. Sometimes in the obits, you will see ‘died by suicide,’ rather than ‘died unexpectedly.’ People are becoming more aware of it and the warning signs.”

Bigalke says Salm is the agency’s “walking billboard.”

“Kathy was right there with me when the foundation of the center started,” Bigalke said, “and we are blessed she is still a pillar with us. We have had some of the best brainstorming sessions over a good cup of tea!”

Salm also volunteers at the Appleton Police Department, where she inputs responses from a survey that was distributed. She also helps sort prescription medicines in the APD’s drug drop box.

Her husband, Bob, wears the Mcgruff the Crime Dog costume and she “leads him around” at school carnivals and during community events, such as National Night Out. She also was Clifford the Big Red Dog to promote literacy and Sparky the Fire Dog to promote fire safety and prevention.

Salm is a former travel agent and has a degree in education. She taught summer school for eight summers in Appleton and Freedom.