Month: May 2018

Founding Thoughts: Finding Our Way

It’s been eight years since my friend, DJ Smith, asked me to join the founding board of Lost & Found

What a journey, my friends.

I’ll never forget feeling like I had joined something that could change the world. Since 2010, I’ve had a front row seat to watching Lost & Found touch countless lives.

My role has changed several times over, but never have I been prouder to be where I am now: leading a new generation of students and volunteers as we build resilient communities and people.

DJ and I (2011) led a team that launched Lost & Found while attending our alma mater: the University of South Dakota.

Lost & Found has changed tremendously in eight years but has remained committed to ending suicide for young adults in the United States. There is a feeling of whiplash, at times, when I think about how much Lost & Found has changed and accomplished. It’s not the bad kind of whiplash, though.

We’ve been able to create awareness about the issue of suicide and its impact on America’s young adults online and through several presentations throughout South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and beyond.

We’ve seen over 100 students take a leading role in prevention work at three campuses in South Dakota through our student chapters. Student leaders have hosted a number of 5K runs and remembrance walks, a “Battle of the Bands,” and several rounds of Finals Week, National Suicide Prevention Week, and Mental Health Month programs.

We’ve changed our mission (more than a few times!) to one focused on resilience as a means of helping young adults overcome suicide (Our Purpose).

We’ve attended funerals and vigils, hugged and held the hands of those who have lost loved ones to suicide, and offered support to friends and peers struggling at the intersection of depression and anxiety.

Lost & Found cares about these things because being present makes a difference. These visible actions show what Lost & Found is, does, and impacts. Our philosophy, all along, has been rooted in co-founder DJ Smith’s focus on making a difference, one life at a time (read more here!).

What you have not seen are the countless hours of work behind the scenes to cement Lost & Found’s legacy in South Dakota and beyond. We’re not the same suicide prevention organization we were when we started. Today, we focus on building personal and community resilience and amplifying the work of our partners in the field, both in South Dakota and around the nation.

What does Lost & Found do today?

Our student chapters (Find a Chapter) continue to deliver quality awareness programming to help peers find the help they need to overcome stress, depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. New to the chapters is our focus on developing resilience for self—an understanding of building skills and support systems critical to living your best life—while actively building resilience for others and community by attending training, providing peer support, and leading advocacy efforts.

Lost & Found partners with campus counseling centers to develop an understanding of student needs through research and assessment. Starting at South Dakota State University, we help create a clear picture of a campus environment and what can be done to best support students in a time of intense demand for counseling services (read more).

We seek to provide validated mental health and suicide prevention training to community members, parents, students, administrators, and the general public. Our goal is to add to the efforts made by states to increase training accessibility (read more) through our own staff and through our partners.

As you might imagine, our approach takes tremendous effort on behalf of our team of students and volunteers, and there are so many updates, stories, and ideas we want to be able to share with you.

That’s why we’re launching our blog, entitled “The Ampersand.” On the blog, you’ll hear from me, our terrific team of students and volunteers, our founders, and our partners about our experiences, our work, and our desire to make the world better for our next generation(s).

The Ampersand might give you (good) whiplash from the variety of posts, but our goal for the blog is clear: keeping you informed about the work we do to end suicide for young adults.

I’m looking forward to sharing more with you and, more importantly, helping you join the conversation about building resilient people and communities. We are here, and we are ready to make an impact.

See you on the blog!


Johnson Feed Commits $5,000 to Match L&F Donations

Johnson Feed, Inc., a Canton, SD-based trucking and service operation and current corporate sponsor of The Lost & Found Association, has committed to match the first $5,000 in donations made to Lost & Found during the month of May and June. Lost & Found will notify current donors of the match and apply the remaining funds to new donors through the end of June.

“We are thankful to the Johnson family for their continued partnership in our effort to build resilient communities and people,” said Lost & Found Board President Erik Muckey. “This gift will transform Lost & Found’s resilience programs for the upcoming 2017-2018 academic year, allowing us to reach new students at South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota.”

The matching gift comes ahead of Lost & Found’s participation in the annual Kicks for a Cause event on June 2, 2018. Johnson Feed will be recognized by Lost & Found as a sponsor for the tournament, a 16-team kickball event held to raise awareness and funds for Sioux Falls area nonprofit organizations. For more information about Kicks for a Cause, please go to

To donate to Lost & Found and secure your match today, go to  



Johnson Feed Inc. provides refrigerated and van service to truckload customers out of the Sioux Falls, SD and Sioux City, IA areas, in addition to operating full service shops and wash facilities in Sioux Falls, Canton, and North Sioux City, SD, as well as Waterloo, IA. Johnson Feed also has a sales department that encompasses a wide range of products, including wholesale salt, twine, and pet products. Johnson Feed is a family-owned operation based in Canton, SD. For more information, go to




The Lost & Found Association is a Sioux Falls, SD-based 501c3 organization that builds resilient communities and people with compassion, understanding, and inclusion. Through student-led resiliency programs, campus counseling research support, and capacity building efforts, Lost & Found strives to end suicide for young adults in the United States.



Erik Muckey

President, Board of Directors


Founding Thoughts: The L&F Journey

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In the first of many thought pieces from Lost & Found’s co-founders, Dennis “DJ” Smith shares his perspective on Lost & Found’s history—and why today’s Lost & Found is in great position to impact those facing depression and anxiety.

It’s difficult to find the words to describe an organization that has grown and changed so much in the last decade. I like to think Lost & Found has provided some perspective to those who do not understand the burden of mental health issues, alongside other institutions and volunteer groups around the world.

Now, more than ever, issues that surround mental health are taking the spotlight. The lingering stigma that forces those who suffer to hold their breath is clearing. It is slow, like watching the tide go out. We don’t notice it day-to-day, but the water’s edge is slowly receding.

Lost & Found started as a Facebook argument. Before people were posting memes, cat videos and extreme political views, social media was a way to connect with like-minded people who have similar interests both locally and otherwise.

A conversation about the usefulness of nonprofits in the suicide awareness and prevention field had me anxious. It had me wanting to prove a point, had me feeling as though it were my moral obligation to stand up for people who feel different and afraid to share that part of themselves.

The funny thing, I learned, is that more people are dealing with mental health concerns than we realize. Not just the kid who is bullied, but the other kid who is doing the bullying. External factors that we cannot see or fathom dictate how we feel, and the surrounding people we consider friends or family either block us from sharing our emotions or provide the emotional support every human craves.

This is the genesis of Lost & Found—a moment that led me to take action.

Thanks to this argument, I met a gal from Michigan: Kayla Roszkowski. We made our own community dedicated to just being kind to one another. Several hundred people jumped aboard, completing monthly challenges such as writing love on their arm for National Suicide Prevention Week or participating in the Operation Beautiful project. This work was demanding and heartwarming. Seeing humans participate in making the world a little brighter for other humans is an activity even the most lukewarm of hearts can jump behind.

While it may feel easier for many people to talk about their demons now, it was not always that way. Talking about your personal anxiety or depression or mental illness is a big obstacle to overcome. At a time when the stigma was first being attacked by social advocates, I was receiving emails from individuals thanking me. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you an exact quote from the positive emails. I just knew how they made me feel.

And yet, I would also receive other notes that left me heartbroken. The worst? I received an email left with a horrifying phrase: “If you are reading this email, then I am already gone.” I was crushed. This woman believed the world was so painful that it would benefit those around her if she was gone. Worse, there was nothing I could do to reverse time. Those ups and downs characterized the early days of what would become Lost & Found and reminded me why it was important to continue the work.

There was a break, a surge in membership, a national competition, and a nonprofit recognition process to go through before what is now Lost & Found came to be. As I “grew up,” so did Lost & Found. More people became involved. Friends and strangers opened up about their vulnerabilities. We shared our message with high schools and college campuses, where new student leaders took charge of the discussion with their peers.

As Lost & Found’s influence spread, however, I also spread—too thin. I became overly involved with different causes outside of Lost & Found, leaving others to take hold of the organization’s future at the University of South Dakota. 

When I look back at that point in time, a part of me feels as though I failed the organization. If not for a team of highly invested people around me, Lost & Found would not have survived. My undergraduate career could have been focused on Lost & Found, had I opened up to people with different experiences to guide the organization. I have lost friends to mental illness. It is an important topic for me. It is a topic that needed addressing then and now. I also know, at the time, that it was vital for me to pursue a variety of passions, which led me to step aside and allow others to take the lead.

This time also showed me there were other ways I could carry on with the organization’s mission—or what was the mission in that moment. While at the University of South Dakota, I worked with policymakers, students, and universities to pass anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment measures. Both actions are known to precede depression and suicide ideation, and both actions should never be tolerated in our homes, schools, and greater communities. I am proud of this work, the people involved and how it tied so naturally to the work of Lost & Found.

Flash forward to 2014: receiving my Bachelor’s Degree and a chance to serve the Peace Corps in Tanzania. Life pushes and pulls us in all sorts of directions, and I knew what I needed to do as I prepared to graduate and leave the country. I stepped down from the role of President, and the board soon after, as I prepared for a three-year move across the globe.

I didn’t know what would happen to Lost & Found, but what started as a difficult goodbye has grown into something wonderful. Under my friend Erik’s leadership, I watched the organization thrive. Instead of painting ideas with a broad brush, the organization focused on areas where direct change can be made. Where Lost & Found stands now is the best it has ever been. What started as a pipedream has become a reality thanks to the work of a dedicated leadership team and those who believe in the organization enough to support it.

As the world continues moving forward, so does Lost & Found. We all struggle. I think that is part of being human. We try to find ourselves in others or in academics or in organizations, taking bits and leaving pieces along the way.

But, I think that is why Lost & Found is here. It isn’t an invincible organization made of invincible people, but people who are flawed; people who have experienced life and have needed support along the way.

People who were strong enough to say they feel weak.

People who recognize that it is impossible to get through life on their own.

People who understand there are others out there who care.

 People who reciprocate that sense of care.

I once said that if we can make the difference in one person’s life or the life of one family, then we have already accomplished our goal. I still believe that, but I also believe that isn’t where it ends.

Lost & Found will continue to grow, because the people who make up the organization today recognize that together, communities can be built where stigmas are torn down and those who feel lost have access to the people and tools necessary to find their way again.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_divider divider_weight=”3″ _builder_version=”3.3.1″][/et_pb_divider][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row custom_padding=”0|0px|0|0px|false|false” _builder_version=”3.3.1″][et_pb_column type=”1_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_image src=”” alt=”djsmith” align=”center” _builder_version=”3.3.1″ border_radii=”on|5px|5px|5px|5px” module_alignment=”center”] 
[/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”3_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.3.1″ max_width=”81%” max_width_tablet=”58%” max_width_phone=”63%” max_width_last_edited=”on|desktop” module_alignment=”center”]Dennis “DJ” Smith is one of the co-founders of The Lost & Found Association. Hailing from Mitchell, South Dakota, DJ has long been an active community organizer and leader. While at the University of South Dakota, DJ served as Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President and Executive Director of the South Dakota Student Federation and became a proud brother of Phi Delta Theta. After receiving his degree, DJ served with the Peace Corps in Tanzania.

He currently resides in Seattle while pursuing his Master of Arts in International Studies from the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies.

Learn more about DJ’s journey with Lost & Found here.