Casey Szmata selected as PRSD's Friends of Education 2020 Award Nominee

Casey Szmata selected as PRSD's Friends of Education 2020 Award Nominee

September 24, 2020
–Yesterday afternoon, the Peace River School Division (PRSD) Board of Trustees celebrated the contributions of Casey Szmata, founder of “Always Find a Reason to Smile” by presenting her with an Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) Zone One ‘Friends of Education Award at the ASBA Zone One Awards Banquet.’

The Friends of Education Award recognizes individuals or groups who have made a special contribution to education, student learning and well-being.

“Casey has been instrumental in bringing awareness, and encouraging important conversations surrounding suicide and the importance of mental health in our schools and communities” says PRSD Board Chair Darren Kuester.

Casey became inspired and passionate to help prevent and bring awareness to suicide and the importance of mental health through her own experiences. On December 22, 2012, Casey lost her daughter, Morgan, to suicide. In a journey to heal, provide service and honor her daughter Morgan’s memory, Casey became passionate to serve, to initiate and encourage conversations surrounding suicide and mental health.

On a school level, Casey has frequently visited many PRSD schools to share suicide awareness presentations, provide suicide awareness lunches, and in every PRSD school, Casey and the Always Find a Reason to Smile team posted inspirational stickers in all washrooms to let those who are struggling know that they are not alone. Last year, Casey and her team organized and funded suicide awareness hot dog lunches at Paul Rowe High School, Hines Creek Composite, Fairview High School and Peace River High School for students with the intention to provide space for conversations surrounding mental health and suicide. She also provided a suicide and mental health awareness presentation at the Mental Health Headstrong Summit at the Grimshaw Multiplex in February of 2019 and her organization “Always Find a Reason to Smile” provided a pancake breakfast for participants.

“Our board is very passionate about advocating and supporting our student’s mental health and wellness” says PRSD Ward Five Trustee Lori Leitch, who was also a key organizer for the Headstrong Summit. “Casey’s support, the way in which she connects with students, and how she creates space for these important conversations is greatly appreciated.”

Casey has also been recently appointed to the Alberta Health Services Zone 1 Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Council, is a board member of the Ignite Youth Group in Fairview, leads bereavement groups in several local communities, organizes the “Picnic in the Park” initiative in Fairview, and is affiliated with “A Servants Heart” initiative in Peace River, which serves to help families and individuals in need.

Each September, Casey’s organization hosts the annual “Always Find a Reason to Smile Welcoming the Light Suicide Walk” that honors those who lost their life to suicide. Casey and her organization also recently teamed up with Peace River Tim Hortons for the Smile Cookie campaign and this year, they raised $23,821.00 for suicide awareness. Casey has also written a book “By the Grace of God” that is a memoir of the darkest period of her life, written with the intention to provide others with hope.

“Casey is very deserving of this award and we are happy to celebrate the important contributions she has and continues to make that make such a positive difference in the lives of our students and school communities” says Kuester. “Mental health is crucial to student success and we are grateful for the caring support Casey provides in our schools and communities.”

Casey was recognized yesterday afternoon at the ASBA Zone One Fall General Meeting with nominees from other school boards in northern Alberta.

Photo: (Left to right): Casey Szmata and Lori Leitch, Ward Five Trustee