Masquerade ball aims to unmask the stigma of teenage suicide

Masquerade ball aims to unmask the stigma of teenage suicide

At 16, Ponaganset High School sophomore Matt Alsfeld committed suicide to the shock of his family, friends and community. His family created a nonprofit in his honor that will bring suicide awareness and prevention education to PHS using funds from the upcoming masquerade ball. Tickets for the ball, which features dinner, dancing and a silent auction, are on sale at eventbrite.com .

FOSTER – Rebecca Adams says her son, Matt Alsfeld, was the kindest, most caring, sensitive and compassionate person she’s ever known, saying he was a counselor to other children in need.

When Matt, as a sophomore at Ponaganset High School, committed suicide on April 1, 2017, at the age of 16, his family and community were devastated, Adams said.

She said Matt was crazy about football and played tight end and wide receiver for Ponaganset High. Though Adams lives in Putnam, Conn., Matt lived in Foster with his father, Bill Alsfeld.

Adams and Matt’s stepmother, Shannan Alsfeld, started the Matt Alsfeld Memorial Fund later that year in memory of Matt to raise awareness of suicide and inform students about suicide intervention.

“I felt like I couldn’t accept that nobody would know his name or who he was, and we had to make some type of positive out of our tragedy,” Adams said.

Adams said she and Alsfeld wanted to do something in addition to a small scholarship and decided to bring suicide prevention education to the high school every year through training for teachers and staff and running an educational assembly for students. She said the pair worked with the school to find the appropriate route to go.

“I think the most important reason is prevention. Other than that, what we really would like is for kids to talk about suicide if they are thinking about it,” Adams said.

She wants students to know who to turn to, and give friends, teachers and school staff the information to understand how to handle that conversation.

The pair chose May, which is mental health month, to bring the assembly to PHS. Before that, the nonprofit will hold a fundraising masquerade ball at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet on Feb. 29 at 6 p.m. to pay for the programs.

Adams said the theme of a masquerade, where masks are optional, is twofold. The idea came from Matt’s favorite holiday, Halloween, she said. It all came together from there.

“Our theme is to unmask the stigma of suicide,” she said.

Adams said when people ask her what they can do to help her or the scholarship program, she said the important thing to her is to take action.

“Take action and get the message out to kids,” Adams said.

The night will feature dinner, dancing to live music, and a silent auction, she said. Adams said there will be many great items up for auction, and hopes the funds raised will be enough to bring the program to Scituate High School, as well.

“We really think if we get a good turnout, we could raise enough money to get at least two high schools in 2020,” Adams said.

Tickets for the masquerade ball are available at www.eventbrite.com for $75 until Feb. 7.

Adams said there are resources at school, including guidance counselors, teachers and administrators, who are there to help anyone considering suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available around the clock at 1-800-273-8255.