Kelsey Kinsel sees experience as a catalyst for action.
“Throughout history, if you look at anybody who has really impacted the world, it all starts from something that they personally experience,” she said.
For Kinsel, now a freshman at Belmont, that experience happened in her sophomore year of high school, when she lost two of her friends to suicide.
“That really affected me,” she said. So, she decided to try her best to ensure that suicide wouldn’t happen again.
Kinsel, then 16, had noticed other anti-suicide campaigns weren’t reaching out to teens through education systems, so she started her own nonprofit that would. She called it Salvation City, with the mission to educate students about counseling options for depression and stress, and about warning signs to look for in friends who may be suicidal.
Her ultimate goal is to distribute these materials nationwide to inspire positivity and community in every high school in the United States.
“I know that’s ambitious, but you have to dream big, and you have to have faith that one vision can turn into something that can really, really affect people, and eventually change the world,” she said.
And ending suicide would certainly change the world. It is the third leading cause of death in young people between 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide takes approximately 4,400 lives each year.
So, Kinsel said, everyone has been affected by suicide in some way, but suicide is still generally regarded as a taboo subject.
Salvation City aims to combat this by opening these issues for discussion.
“If [teens] can read about suicide prevention in different media outlets then they might feel comfortable if they’re struggling to reach out for help,” Kinsel said.
Last month, Kinsel has released the Salvation City HOPE Compilation CD, with 10 uplifting songs by 10 different artists. She hopes to sell the CDs to raise money to distribute the suicide prevention resources.
Salvation City is also holding a HOPE poster campaign. Supporters can purchase a poster and photograph themselves with it, in order to help the nonprofit share its motto: “Let your HOPE shine.” Kinsel hopes this will promote the message that everyone is capable of sharing hope and influencing others positively.
Some musicians and bands have already taken photos with posters to support Salvation City. BMX star Mark Hoffman, actress Marcia Cross, and singer Colbie Caillat are just a few of the stars who have expressed interest in supporting Salvation City throughout its growth.
In addition, the project has already gotten great publicity by outlets like MTV and the Tennessean. Kinsel was also a Reader’s Choice finalist for Glamour Magazine’s 2011 Woman of the Year.
“It was great just being able to share my story and to share my heart for the cause, knowing that it was going to reach thousands of people,” Kinsel said of the media attention.
Salvation City is going through the process to file as an official nonprofit, which is still in its opening phases. But with such publicity and support from big names, Kelsey believes the nonprofit is growing quickly because it’s such a relatable cause.
“It just shows how one idea from a 16-year-old girl in Las Vegas has turned into something that’s reaching teens from all across the country,” she said. “It’s been wonderful.”