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2019 Class of Rising Stars Jennifer Savner Levinson

Jennifer Savner Levinson is a suicide attempt survivor who works diligently everyday to maintain a healthy quality of life. There is not a day that is not a struggle for her. It is because of her personal experiences that she is passionate about trying to help others, especially young people and their families, who have been impacted by mental wellness concerns, at risk behaviors, and suicide. 

After 25 years of service in public schools as a classroom teacher and an autism behavior specialist, Jennifer began volunteering for the SPEAK UP Foundation – Suicide Prevention Education Awareness of Kids United as Partners. The organization was created in the fall of 2015 and co-founded by Drs. Karen and Steven Arkin, Allie Doss, and Jan and Jeff Marrs, who all lost children to suicide. “Out of unspeakable pain, we have pledged to save young lives and eliminate stigma and teen suicide,” said Karen. 

Jennifer took a huge risk to leave education to become the community outreach facilitator at the SPEAK UP Foundation. “Fortunately, Jennifer has not lost a child to suicide as we have, but reaches out with a selfless passion to anyone who asks for her assistance – schools, places of worship, non profits, community service organizations, private businesses, mental health agencies, and individuals to provide mental health advocacy, free materials and training,” added Karen.

As an advocate, educator, speaker, and outreach and support person for SPEAK UP, Jennifer has helped the board raise more than $300,000. She also has educated more than 30,000 students about suicide awareness and prevention, increasing mental wellness literacy, and decreasing the stigma attached to seeking help in the Greater Kansas City metro high schools as well as those in smaller cities and rural areas in both Kansas and Missouri. She has personally attended more than 500 mental health and community events to promote mental wellness.

Jennifer is a team member of Kansas City Suicide Association of Prevention Programs (KC SAPP), Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition, and the Giving Group KC, an organization of members committed to making a collective philanthropic impact in our community. She also has worked with the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri, to spread her message of suicide prevention. 

Jennifer was the recipient of the 2017 Tom Karlin Foundation Talk Listen ACT Award. Those who are honored Talk, Listen, and ACT and make a difference in their schools and communities because of their kindness, compassion, and willingness to reach out to others. The mission of the Tom Karlin Foundation is to improve the quality of teens’ lives and reduce teen suicide through education and awareness of depression, suicide and mental wellness. 

Board Chairman Bonnie Swade, Suicide Awareness Survivor Support (SASS) stated: “Jennifer joined our board more than three and a half years ago and has been very active, participating in meetings, going to SASS events and willingly doing anything that is asked of her. When given a task, she completes it quickly and to the best of her ability.” 

Since Jennifer moved from Chicago to Our Town for graduate school in 1997, the community service, random acts of kindness, and selfless generosity of Kansas Citians have impressed her. In addition, she looks forward to getting to know the other caring and passionate individuals that comprise the class of the 2019 Rising Stars. “I was completely caught off guard and humbled by the nomination and then having been selected as a Rising Star. The evening of the reception was bittersweet in that several of my close friends who were with me have sadly lost a child by suicide. It was once again my way of letting them know their child would not be forgotten. I hope that through this opportunity and recognition it will bring about a greater awareness and understanding of mental wellness.”

Also featured in the March 30, 2019 issue of The Independent
Photo Credit: Tom Styrkowicz

Ann Slegman

Ann Slegman has thoroughly enjoyed her various positions at The Independent since she started in 2006. She has been the managing editor and editor and is now a contributing writer for the magazine. She and her husband, Tom, are parents of two adult children who live in Brooklyn, David and Kate. Ann enjoys reading, traveling, playing tennis, bridge and Mahjong, watching Netflix shows, and walking her Havanese dog, Morris. She has written a novel, Return to Sender, and a collection of poems, Conversation.


Bailey Pianalto Photography


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