Aug 21, 2019
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Grad student volunteers with suicide prevention organization


Photo Courtesy of Melissa Watkins / The Collegian

As a sophomore in high school, one of Melissa Watkins’ friends threatened suicide. Watkins, already in an emotional daze, was in attendance at her high school auditorium listening to a presentation put on by Fresno Survivors of Suicide Loss.

This was seven years ago.

Since then, Watkins has strived to make a difference in her community by volunteering with the same organization that was at her school that day.

She instantly knew she wanted to help in anyway she could.

Now a 22-year-old graduate student at Fresno State seeking her master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy, she volunteers as much as she can in between her two work schedules, various school activities and her classes.

Over the past several years, Watkins has been involved with Fresno Survivors of Suicide Loss, a non-profit organization that was established in 1985.

Although she has never personally dealt with overcoming feelings of suicide, Watkins feels strongly about the issue because of the incident with her friend.

“Suicide does not become an option,” Watkins said. “It’s one of the most difficult things to talk about in society even though it is a big problem.”

Watkins began volunteering with Fresno SOSL the summer following her sophomore year.

Executive Director of Fresno SOSL Leann Gouveia gave the presentation at Central East and has since been working with Watkins on various projects.

“She’s been a tremendous help to this organization and I don’t know how she does it,” Gouveia said. “She’s made such an enormous impact since the day she joined. Melissa has made this place bigger, better and stronger.”

Last month, Fresno SOSL held their 8th annual Fun Run/Walk at Woodward Park, and Watkins helped raise over $5,500 in the silent auction.

Gouveia is extremely grateful that her presentation seven years ago affected Watkins in a special way. Since Watkins arrival at Fresno SOSL, she has been volunteering as an office assistant, presentation speaker and event coordinator along with numerous other duties. She is now a paid volunteer, through the Scholar Service Grant at Fresno State provided by Career Services.

Watkins currently volunteers 10 hours a week with Fresno SOSL. But she doesn’t do it for the money; she has two other jobs for that.

Soua Xiong, a graduate student at Fresno State, first met Watkins three years ago while being a part of the Fresno State Leadership Council. Xiong has noticed how devoted Watkins is in everything she does.

“She knows her limits and what she can and can’t handle,” Xiong said. “She loves what she does and the activities she is involved in.”

Watkins and Xiong are still are involved with the Fresno State Leadership Council, both as board members.

On top of being a devoted worker, volunteer and student, Xiong knows she’s an even better friend.

“She cares about others and will do her best to make sure you are having a great day,” Xiong said. “She takes her time to show you how much she appreciates your friendship and what that means to her.”

“Being able to give back is just an amazing feeling,” Watkins said. “Nothing can compare, it’s what helps me get away from everything.”

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