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Suicide prevention month brings mental health to forefront

Suicide prevention is a matter close to Krissi Raine’s heart, so she’s passionate about helping raise awareness about mental health services and the signs of crisis during September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness month.

“I had a friend who took her life four years ago, and I’ve seen the need for people who want counseling, but they don’t always have financial assistance,” Raines said.

As program director for a federal grant at Westview Behavioral Health Services in Newberry, Raines works across nine counties organizing community events and training programs to teach people the signs of declining mental health and impending crisis. She started the Carolina Project in May 2019 as an initiative to provide mental health first aid kits and works as a counselor through her Abbeville-based company, Bow and Arrow Coaching.

“The way we help people when they’re suicidal is not when they’re suicidal, it’s way before the crisis occurs,” she said.

During suicide prevention awareness month, Raines said she’s designed and is selling a T-shirt to raise money for the Caroline Project and to fund a variety of educational resources. Through a grant, she said she teaches a mental health first aid class that goes over the signs and symptoms of a person experiencing crisis and how to help when someone is having suicidal thoughts.

A sudden change in behavior, such as an increase in alcohol or drug use, or a person isolating themselves, giving their belongings away or being agitated easily can all be signs that something is amiss. Often the reaction to these behaviors is to step back and give the person space or avoid interacting with them, but Raines said this might be when that person needs intervention most.

“One of the things I’ve learned is when you see a lot of suicides in a community, it’s often a reflection of a sickness in the community and not sickness of the individual,” she said.

At last week’s Abbeville City Council meeting, Mayor Santana Delano Freeman presented Raines a proclamation recognizing September as Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.

“Suicide is real, and I think that it does not get the coverage or respect that it deserves,” Freeman said.

Too often, he said signs of mental health struggles are dismissed as personal problems or there’s a hesitancy to talk openly about them. When people are dismissive of concerning behavior they see in others, they could be leaving that person to struggle alone.

Six people have lost their lives to suicide in Abbeville this year, Freeman said, and he wants people to carefully listen to one another and care about these warning signs.

“It makes you wonder what was going on in that person’s life that they thought they needed to do that,” he said. “It makes you think about the people they’ve left behind, and the questions they’ll keep having after that.”

Raines said she wants to work to reduce the stigma around talking about mental health and make it a community-wide discussion.

People are less likely to overlook mental health problems in their family and friends if they’re better informed and more aware of them.

For people struggling with mental health, she said a big step in improving it is developing healthy coping skills. The easy route for dealing with stress and anxiety often makes the problem worse — turning to drinking, using drugs, focusing only on work or falling back on other vices doesn’t provide real relief.

Instead, she advocates getting outside and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Prayer, meditation or other practices to help clear the mind are also tools to help cope with negative emotions.

“One of the things I realized about myself is that I work a lot,” Raines said. “One of the goals I set for myself is to make sure I have three times a week where I’m meeting up with friends, even if it’s virtually.”

Making plans and thinking actively about life helps keep people from feeling trapped and gives them a sense of control, she said.

While she teaches classes to private groups and is planning classes with local law enforcement agencies, she said there are other local resources people can tap into if they need help. The Beckman Center for Mental Health Services can put people on the right path, and she cited Synergy Counseling and even Cornerstone for people struggling with substance abuse.

“Burying our head in the sand and pretending it’s going to go away, that’s something we’ve done for years,” she said, “and if we continue to do it, we’re only going to see it hit closer and closer to home.”

For information on Westview, the Caroline Project or the classes Raines teaches, email kraines@westview

South Carolina Senate OKs teacher raises, hazard pay

COLUMBIA — The South Carolina Senate passed changes Tuesday to the state budget that would provide a small raise to most teachers and a hazard pay bonus for some lower-paid state workers.

Now attention turns to the House, where leaders may prefer not to change the $9 billion budget at all with worries that COVID-19 could continue to hobble the economy and cut state revenues.

Lawmakers have already agreed to keep spending levels for the budget year that started in July at the same levels as the year before.

The Senate also approved how it thinks South Carolina should spend the remaining $668 million in federal money for COVID-19 expenses, including setting aside $425 million toward repaying the fund that doles out unemployment benefits. The state has already set aside $500 million in federal money to replenish that fund.

Six months ago, before the pandemic started, economists thought the state would have an extra $800 million collected in fees and taxes to spend in the 2020-2021 budget. With tax revenues and fees plunging, that number has been revised to just over $80 million.

Lawmakers do have about $775 million saved from the past two budget cycles, and the Senate bill passed Tuesday during a special session does set aside $500 million to try to prevent cuts if revenues fall further.

The bill sets aside $50 million for education, most of it going to teachers in what are called “step increases” — annual raises of several hundred dollars given to most teachers based on how many years they have worked. Those raises were frozen for this budget year in the spring as COVID-19 spread. If approved, teachers will get the extra money set retroactively to July 1.

The bill also gives $1,000 hazard pay bonuses to around 12,000 state employees, such as prison guards, state troopers and some health care workers, who make less than $50,000 a year and had to keep working during the pandemic. The lawmakers set aside $20 million for those bonuses.

The Senate adds $4 million for additional school nurses and more than $4 million to provide an extra $175 for poll workers this November. It also provides $40 million to promote tourism, which supporters said could be important next spring if the pandemic is under control.

The vote kicks the budget to the House, which could refuse to take up the Senate changes and choose to keep spending at last year’s levels until January when a new General Assembly is sworn in or beyond.

The Senate also approved other proposals to spending the COVID-19 federal money, including $93 million for additional coronavirus testing, $100 million for tutoring and other needs for virtual schools. Also included is $100 million to help local governments and $20 million to help food banks, provide utility payment relief and mental counseling for people struggling with the pandemic.

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Seasonal scarecrows returning to Greenwood, Ninety Six for contests, displays

Get those thoughts busy hatchin’. Think old clothes stuffed with hay.

That’s right. Even a global pandemic isn’t stopping Greenwood and Ninety Six from getting into the autumnal spirit with scarecrow contests.

Registration ends Sept. 18 for Uptown Greenwood’s Scarecrow Contest. Visit for details and rules.

Greenwood scarecrows are to be affixed to light poles Uptown, with installations from Sept. 27 through Sept. 30.

Voting for your favorites will take place online, Oct. 1-31. Watch for a voting link on the Uptown Greenwood website and Facebook page. Winners will be announced Nov. 2.

No sign-up is needed for the Town of Ninety Six Scarecrow Contest. Scarecrows must be installed between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. See details on the Town of Ninety Six Facebook page.

Ninety Six scarecrows will line Main Street and the walking trail. Judging takes place Oct. 24.

Greenwood County Council allocates $85,000 for small businesses grants

Help is coming for small businesses in Greenwood County.

Greenwood County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to allocate $85,000 for one-time grants of up to $1,500 for small businesses with $10,000 of that sum designated for marketing and administrative costs.

Only a business with 10 or fewer employees and annual revenue of less than $1 million can qualify.

“Governments have had to do things we have not seen in our lifetime,” George McKinney, the county’s emergency management coordinator, said in advocating for this program.

A committee comprised of government personnel and business leaders will assess the applications of small businesses.

“We want to make sure this is a Greenwood County program,” David Dougherty, interim CEO of Greenwood SC Chamber of Commerce, said.

He said the chamber will reach out to each of the municipalities for recommendations on who should serve on the committee. He said faith-based and diversity representation would also be sought.

McKinney said the South Carolina Small Business Development Center reported that Greenwood’s 2,259 businesses employ a total of 29,324 employees.

He said the CARES Act allows small business expenses to be reimbursed. His proposal, which initially sought $75,000, was for the county to allocate the money now, then apply for reimbursement.

Some council members thought the amount was too low, especially if the county can be reimbursed. However, Chairman Steve Brown said the county could find itself having to cover the expense should the funds not be reimbursed.

Administrative costs were a concern for some on council who noted that such expenses would reduce how many grants could be awarded. While Dougherty said the Chamber would look at other ways of funding the administrative costs, County Manager Toby Chappell suggested council add in $10,000 for marketing and administrative costs, increasing the amount to $85,000.

The county treasurer or her designee would serve on the committee that approves the grants.

McKinney stressed that the time frame for putting this together is very short. Reimbursement would have to be requested by Dec. 30.

Greenwood City Council will consider a similar program. Uptown Greenwood manager Lara Hudson told County Council that the city will discuss allotting $75,000 toward small businesses at the next City Council meeting.

McKinney said applications will be online.