Article and Photos by Marci Narum
If you were to put a punctuation mark on the story of your life or the life of someone you love, what would it be?
Becca Holtan of Turtle Lake and Erika Olson of Mandan say the semicolon carries the most power and meaning for them. They hope it will for other people, too. The women are personally advocating for Project Semicolon, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide.
“Project Semicolon to me is an awareness of any mental illness and suicide awareness,” Becca explains. “It’s anything you struggle with in your own being. It’s everyday life. Self struggle. It represents a sentence the author could have ended, but chose not to.”
“It’s about eating disorders, going through a divorce, going through cancer, or loss of a family member,” Erika adds.
Suicide is a much too familiar topic for Erika. A friend died by suicide 12 years ago, but more recently, she has watched her own three kids, who are young adults, go through the agony of losing their friends to suicide.
“Between Bismarck and Mandan, there have been well over a dozen in the last four years; I knew most of them personally. They were friends of my kids.”
Suicide hits close to home for Becca, too. Her youngest brother died by suicide in 2011. Since then, Becca and her family have been strong advocates for suicide prevention and mental health awareness. They will attend their seventh Out of the Darkness Walk in Bismarck in September; Becca serves on the event committee.
“My dad always says, ‘If we can go out and be there for somebody and save one person’s life, it will be worth it,’” Becca shares.
Erika says her son’s best friend died of a heroin overdose. She then watched her son struggle with addiction, so her deepest passion for Project Semicolon is to get people talking about the addictions that secretly plague so many North Dakotans.
“I want people to know they don’t have to hide it. We all struggle,” Erika adds. “They’re probably battling similar demons that you’re battling.”
Erika and Becca have teamed up to make Project Semicolon more visible. Becca is designing and creating clothing and merchandise that Erika carries in her Mandan store, Market West.
Read more about what they are doing in this month’s Look What She Did. You can find out more about Project Semicolon at projectsemicolon.com.