Community profile: Rifle pastor uses photography to fundraise for youth suicide prevention
When Jon Phillips was 18 years old he felt hopeless. He was going through a dark time and his life felt like it had little meaning.
Phillips remembers pulling through those dark days with the help of a pastor who took the time to reach out and form a relationship that ultimately saved him.
Now, 20 years later, Phillips is a pastor at the Rifle Church of Christ and hopes he can provide youth the same help he himself so desperately needed.
“As a pastor, a moment that hit home was when I did a funeral for a young man here in Rifle a few years ago who passed away from suicide,” Phillips said. “Seeing the heartbreak of the family and all the people that were left behind; just wondering if something else could have been done.”
As a father of three children ranging in ages from 8- to 12-years-old, Philips has talked to each of them about suicide, self-harm and why people might want to end their life. He fears that young people are facing an uphill battle to find meaning because human relationships are often lost to the digital world.
“I think we will see an increase in the need for human relationships versus technological relationships,” he said. “I think there is a big difference and sometimes I think it’s hard for young people to know the difference or to even know why human relationships are better.”
Helping through the lens
Phillips had his first camera and darkroom experience when he was in seventh grade. He didn’t realize it at the time but it was an experience that would make a lasting impression on him.
His passion for photography was rekindled after moving to Rifle from Arkansas in 2013. He grew up in Laramie, Wyoming and remembers visiting Glenwood Springs and popular fishing holes often with his family. After returning to the Western Slope — a place that feels most like home to him — he often takes full advantage of what the Southern Rocky Mountains have to offer and finds himself spending five or six hours outdoors creating work.
Phillips wanted to find a way to raise funds for suicide prevention in at-risk youth and recently collaborated with local coffee shops to do so. He will be displaying and selling prints with the intention of donating all proceeds to the Second Wind Fund — a nonprofit organization in Denver that works to connect youth at risk for suicide with mental health treatment. According to its website, just under 400 youth were provided with access to life-saving mental health therapy in the state of Colorado in 2019-20 with the help of Second Wind Fund.
The 30×40 canvas print that Phillips will be selling at Whistle Pig Coffee Stop in Rifle has meaning behind it. It’s a photograph taken when he was in the company of great friends.
“Even though a few years have passed since our time together in Crested Butte, we still have that memory, we still have that connection,” he said. “We know that we can still rely on each other when we need to and that’s an important piece.”
Phillips will be selling prints at both Whistle Pig in Rifle and Drifters in New Castle as a starting point for his fundraiser.
Jasmine Atchinson and her husband Kevin took over ownership of the Whistle Pig in early January and didn’t think twice about supporting Phillips’ cause by hanging the prints in their shop.
“(Phillips) told me about the proceeds going towards suicide prevention, especially for the younger kids, and it’s something that my husband and I want to contribute to and support in any way that we can,” she said. “That’s the small part that I can do is just hang his artwork and it wasn’t even a question.”
Atchinson grew up in the valley and recognizes the acute need for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
“I think that’s just what the community needs right now, especially with all the deaths that have been happening,” she said.
Phillips hopes to be able to expand his sales to other locations across the valley if the idea gains enough traction to do so.
“This is sort of like a beta test,” he said. “I’d like to just print, print, print… with the hope of getting (prints) up wherever I can for the same cause.”
Phillips’ long-term goal is to put together an annual event during National Suicide Prevention week in September. The event would be in the form of a silent auction featuring live music and various pieces of artwork by locals in the valley.
“I’d like to continue to raise mental health awareness in Rifle, not just for youth but everybody, and open up those conversations about caring for each other in person and building those in personal relationships again,” Phillips said.
Phillips is currently working to create a website for online print sales to continue supporting Second Wind Fund.
“If this fundraising effort could affect just one life then it would be worth it,” he said. “I really think that any young person who needs someone to talk to should have that available to them.”
Where: Whistle Pig Coffee Stop and Cafe, 121 E. Third St, Rifle
Colorado Drifters Coffee and Fly Shop, 331 Main St., New Castle
Cost: $200-$215 for print on canvas
How to contact Jon Phillips: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or email@example.com
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