Senior draws awareness to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay


Paola Laborda

Fighting for “Life” senior Emily Surak hopes to combat suicide in teens. Surak organized and presented the “Be The Voice” talent show in March 2018 to raise money for the Crisis Center of Tampa bay and spread suicide awareness.

Ava Nelson, Staff Writer

Q: What is the award? 

A: The award is a 50,000 cash reward and half of it I’m donating it to the crisis center, or any nonprofit, and then the other half goes to any college. 

Q: Do you know what college you’re going to put it to? 

A: I don’t know yet, but I have two top choices, which is either LSU or FSU. 

Q: How did you win? 

A: Last year I applied for it before I had actually produced the event which was kind of a long shot, but the crisis center nominated me again this year, and then it was an application about 15 questions and they each had a minimum of a 100 word answer, and so it was questions like what inspired you to do this – you know, pretty basic questions. 

Q: Can you describe what your volunteering is like at the crisis center? 

A: At the crisis center, well, my first event with the crisis center was “Strokes for Hope” swim thing and it was a group of five swimmers who swam around Davis Island and I swam like 1,000 feet and just came back. The other things I’ve done with the crisis center, I’ve spoken at a few donor events and then mostly I usually just bring gift bags and goodie bags to the callers in the call center because they have a really stressful job and they get a lot of really stressful calls each day. That’s what I like to do: cheer up their day. 

Q: How did you get involved in the crisis center? 

A: I’ve had friends since I was in fifth grade that struggled with anxiety and depression and a lot of mental health issues, and one of my best friends a couple years ago tried to kill herself a couple times, and it was just something really close to my heart and after realizing I could have done something about it, and she moved away now so she’s fine, I realized I could have done something. So I started researching things and I found out about the crisis center and then I just started, you know, going up there and trying to get involved. 

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your volunteer work? 

A: I just want to make more teens aware that the crisis center hotline is 211 and there is a way, suicide is not the answer, and there is a way to feel better. 

Q: How has your involvement impacted you as a person? How have you changed since becoming involved? 

A: I think I definitely changed in a way in I observe a lot more, and I know when something is off with someone, and I know statistics like one in five teens struggle with a mental health illness, and I know if someone is struggling, I’m there to listen to them and help them through their problems and I’m not afraid to get them help. 

Q: When did you first realize you had a passion for this, and when did that fire start to help others? 

A: This is actually kind of an interesting story. You know I’m in pageants, right? Ok, so I started doing pageants and I started competing my sophomore year and in the Miss America organization, which is the one I compete in, you have to have a platform and I was originally going to do a platform for homelessness, because when I was a kid, I used to always collect food and things for the homeless. But then after the experience with my friend, I decided that I wanted to focus more on the crisis center and that is when I started really working because you need to build up research and build a connection with those organizations if you want to be able to answer questions in the interview. And then I just started going there because this is actually really inspirational and really doing something. 

Q: What is your favorite part of this and most rewarding part? 

My favorite and most rewarding experience with this whole thing is the same one, and it was right after I was finished with the show “Be the Voice,” I had a bunch of people reach out to me and tell me how they struggled and how happy they were that someone like me was spreading the word about 211 and the crisis center and talking about resources. Also, I’ve had other friends reach out, too, that don’t even go to Plant, across the state that have reached out to me and asked for advice if like one of their friends was dealing with suicidal tendencies or thoughts. That was really moving because I knew that what I was doing was actually being heard and like people were paying attention. 

Q: What does this award mean to you? 

A: It means, well, I don’t know. I feel like all my work has payed off and I’ve been working so hard for two years straight trying to get the word out to people and now that I got that award so many people got to hear my story at the stadium and they also put it on the morning show so now I definitely know that more people are hearing about what happened to me and how easy it is just to call 211 and how simple it is to get someone help or get yourself help. 

Q: What was your first reaction when you heard you won? 

A: Well, she called, the lady that gave me the tour and stuff, she called me and she asked me a few follow-up questions and then she was like you’re one of the finalists so I didn’t know yet if I got it or not, so she was like do you still want to continue on and I was like yes. And it was like the day before Thanksgiving, I know that because it was during break and I was about to leave to go to my duel-enrolment class, and she gave me a call and she was like I just wanted to let you know you’ve been selected for the Nov. 8th game and you’ve been selected as one of our Community Heroes of Tomorrow, and I was not surprised because I got the call a few days earlier about being a finalist, but I was still like ‘oh my god,’ and she was like you can cry if you want to and I think that I was too happy that I couldn’t even cry, but I was still like freaking out I was so excited. 

Q: What do you think separates you from the other nominees? 

A: I think just my passion and my hard work and drive, and as I said earlier in the day, I applied two years in a row, and the first year I didn’t get it because I didn’t produce the event yet which I think is why, but I kept working and I really put my all into that project, and even when it was over it’s not like I just stopped working with the crisis center. I kept bring goodie bags to the crisis center and I kept talking to them and figure out ways to better spread the message to teens at Plant and other schools. 

Q: Is there anything you would like to add? 

A: The crisis center hotline is 211.