Month: May 2024

2023 Annual Report: Executive Director’s Letter: Great challenges bring great rewards in 2023

Erik Muckey, MBA, MPP, PMP, CNM

I don’t think I ever suspected how challenging and rewarding 2023 would be for Lost&Found.

Like many nonprofits in South Dakota and around the country, Lost&Found adapted to serve its community during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years that followed. With a new understanding and appreciation for mental health needs and suicide risk in our state, new resources were granted, and new partnerships were formed to meet the still-rising needs of youth and young adults in our state. That, more than anything else, was reason to give any South Dakotan hope—that organizations like Lost&Found and many others were working together with new purpose for a common vision.

Despite sustained high demand for services and needs of young adults, Lost&Found found itself starting 2023 fighting not just for the lives of South Dakotans we served, but our own organization’s life. Several funding sources began to expire given their attachment to federal COVID-19 emergency declarations. At the same time, suicide continued to rise and remains the leading cause of death for South Dakotans under the age of 29. We could not wait for another federal grant cycle to arrive to save lives.

So we went back to our favorite phrase, “doing more to prevent suicide,” and we did more than we ever thought we could. We brought a bill to the South Dakota Legislature to fund youth and young adult suicide prevention. We doubled down on making peer mentorship accessible to college-aged students through a mobile application. We connected suicide loss survivors to resources and care at unprecedented levels. We tripled the number of people we served through community education. And we revised our approach once more—to make sure we’re meeting the challenge of suicide.

What was the result? A great reward for a great challenge.

The South Dakota Legislature passed a one-time funding bill, House Bill 1079, that provides $2 million for youth and young adult suicide prevention. As of this writing, Lost&Found has successfully piloted ReachU with student mentors at two universities in South Dakota, preparing for statewide implementation. We’ve created new resources for suicide loss survivors and are preparing to provide services to Medicaid recipients through our licensed Community Health Workers. Educational resources are abundantly available at Lost&Found, and there’s still more to celebrate—especially with a new strategic plan.

Whether Lost&Found is serving in South Dakota or in Southeast Asia—as we did in 2023—now is always the time to make suicide prevention a priority for our next generation. We were founded on the vision that no youth and young adult should ever die by suicide, and we stand by that commitment.

Until we’ve “done more”—done all we can—to make that world a reality, no challenge can stand in the way of this critical, life-saving work. And you make that possible.

Thank you for making life-saving work possible. Because of you, we can do more to prevent suicide.

In service,

Erik Muckey

Executive Director, Lost&Found


Read more in the 2023 annual report.

2023 Annual Report: HB1079: New S.D. law supports suicide prevention programs

South Dakota map showing Lost&Found program locations

After a concerted effort by many people and organizations, including Lost&Found, a bill funding suicide prevention programs was signed into law by Gov. Kristi Noem on March 23, 2023, after passing through the House Health & Human Services Committee, the Joint Appropriations Committee, the House, and the Senate over the course of the 2023 legislative session.

The text of HB1079. Open a PDF here.

“This is a fundamental shift in how South Dakota approaches suicide prevention and loss survivor support for our next generation,” said Lost&Found CEO/Executive Director Erik Muckey. “At a time when suicide is the leading cause of death for South Dakotans under the age of 29, the S.D. Legislature and Noem Administration overwhelmingly supported, passed, and signed a bill into law that directs state general funds to youth and young adult suicide prevention programs for the first time. This is groundbreaking and will change—and save—lives.”

HB1079 set aside $2 million for the South Dakota Department of Health to use for youth and young adult suicide prevention support programs. The funds are being used for mental health and suicide prevention peer support training in high schools and colleges, for community mental health and suicide prevention data services, and for suicide loss response planning and support services—all of which address strategies outlined in the 2020-2025 SD Suicide Prevention Plan.

The Department of Health selected vendors to support these objectives in August. Lost&Found is one of three organizations (along with Helpline Center and Mountain Plains Evaluation Services) that went through an application process and are now doing the work outlined in the new law.

The law addresses a funding need. The funding for some programs currently fulfilling the peer support objective was set to expire by June 2024. Before this law, there was no state funding source for data services or suicide loss response services for schools in South Dakota.



After receiving funding from the Department of Health in August 2023, Lost&Found went to work immediately to meet statewide mental health and suicide prevention needs. As an organization that supports any and all students, as well as providing tools to administration, staff, and faculty, we focused on three things:

  • Peer2Peer Mentorship: 1-on-1, non-clinical, peer mental health support designed to meet local needs
  • Campus Resilience Index: Dashboards and recommendations built on aggregated suicide prevention data for colleges and universities
  • Suicide Loss Response Plans and Policies: Guidance and consulting provided to campus administrators on best practices and policies for suicide loss response.

Since the passage of HB 1079, 14 institutions of higher education are adopting one or more of these programs with additional efforts in progress going into the 2024-25 academic year.



Read more in the 2023 annual report.

2023 Annual Report: L&F supports campuses, families facing suicide loss

Campus Postvention Best Practices booklet cover

Guide helps campuses address suicide loss

As our mission implores us to do, in 2023 we started “doing more” to support college campuses facing a suicide loss.Campus Postvention Best Practices Guide cover

As our team jumped into action to support a S.D. college campus that experienced multiple suicides in one semester, we realized that some of the resources that schools desperately need after a suicide didn’t exist. While researchers have developed comprehensive toolkits to support the work of postvention policy for K-12 schools, college campuses, and workplaces, we learned that these toolkits lack a simple action plan. Administrators needed clear, easy-to-implement guidance on how to develop postvention policies, and if the policies weren’t yet in place, how to address and contain the crisis of a suicide death on campus. We used the best-practice materials to create the straightforward guide these schools needed to support their campus community and develop policies. This guide that we developed is called the Campus Postvention Best Practices Guide. The information itself is not new, just optimally formatted for clarity and ease of use.

The goal of our work through the HB1079 funding is to use and continue to improve this guide to help campuses find a starting point in the daunting task of developing a comprehensive suicide response plan. In 2024, we will continue to walk alongside campuses as they tailor these policies to their unique community needs. We are proud of the progress we have made thus far in filling this significant gap in services and look forward to reporting significant completed policy change across SD college campuses this year.

Dakotah Jordan, Education & Postvention Manager

Would you like to review a copy of the guide? Email


Program addresses need for suicide loss support

2023 marked the first full year of the Survivors Joining for Hope program being part Lost&Found.

SJ4H logo

Significant progress was made in spreading the word across the state. We shared information about the program by adding it to our tabling materials at campuses and conferences, as well as taking the opportunity to speak about the program on conference stages and within organizations.

We also made updates to our application to better determine the additional needs of our participants and started collecting more data on the impact our program was making. This year we served 13 families and provided $30,446 in financial support for things such as funeral/cremation costs and lawyer fees. We helped participants find resources for additional needs such as rent assistance, utility assistance, diapers, lawyer services, housing, counseling, peer support groups, medical expenses and more. One hundred percent of participants surveyed reported that this program reduced financial stress, was a source of support, and lifted their spirits during their time of loss.

We continue to work on how to make this program sustainable for the long term. To support staffing costs, we are still using the community health worker grant funding from the state of South Dakota that helped us get this program off the ground, but that funding runs out in May 2024. We have submitted our application to Medicaid to reimburse the services of this program. We are hopeful that this process will allow us to continue helping those with the most critical needs across our state.

To support the financial assistance fund, we received funding from the Sioux Empire United Way and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. An endowment fund to support SJ4H has also been started through the South Dakota Community Foundation, which includes a matching challenge with a time period of two years.

Dakotah Jordan, Education & Postvention Manager


Read more in the 2023 annual report.

Lost&Found is a recipient of the Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health

2024 Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health Awardee certificate image

Lost&Found is a 2024 Gold Recipient of Mental Health America’s Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health.

The Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health certification recognizes employers committed to creating mentally healthy workplaces. The Bell Seal’s holistic evaluation of employer practices considers the entire employee experience.

Recipients of the Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health are nationally recognized as meeting or exceeding workplace standards that promote positive worker mental health and well-being and join a community of leaders committed to advancing the workplace mental health movement.

“Receiving the seal confirms that our efforts in creating a workplace that supports our team’s mental health are going in the right direction,” said Gesine Ziebarth, Lost&Found’s Research & Evaluation Manager. “It motivates us to stay the course and look for additional ways to do better, especially working in a field — suicide prevention — that can get heavy at times.”

Only 1 in 4 employers meet the standards for Bell Seal certification. Bell Seal recipients, representing a combined workforce of 3 million workers, understand that time, intention, investment, and collaboration at all organizational levels are needed to support workers’ mental health and well-being.

Bell Seal recipients represent over 28 industries – from health care and the public sector to financial services and manufacturing – and organizational sizes, from three to more than 1 million workers, in 35 states.

Mental Health America is a nonprofit that advances the mental health and well-being of all people living in the U.S. through public education, research, advocacy, public policy, and direct service.


Lost&Found's staff, March 2024

Lost&Found’s staff, March 2024

Mental Health Monday: Physical activity improves mental health

Mental Health Monday - illustration of line drawings with mental health themes

This is part of a regular series called Mental Health Monday. Our goal is to share information about mental health trends and research, as well as suggestions for what we can do as individuals and communities to improve the mental health of ourselves and others. 


Physical movement is a big brain boost

Physical activity improves cognitive and mental health in all sorts of ways, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Exercise offers short-term boosts in cognition. Studies show that immediately after a bout of physical activity, people perform better on tests of working memory and other executive functions. This may be in part because movement increases the release of neurotransmitters in the brain, most notably epinephrine and norepinephrine.

The neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin are also released with exercise, which is thought to be one reason people often feel so good after going for a run or a long bike ride.

The brain benefits show up most significantly when people work out consistently over time.

Physical activity also benefits mood. People who work out regularly report having better mental health than people who are sedentary. And exercise programs can be effective at treating people’s depression, leading some psychiatrists and therapists to prescribe physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week is a good benchmark.

Read more about how exercise benefits the brain in the full article, How Exercise Strengthens Your Brain.


Let’s Do More:

  • The benefits of exercise on your brain are dose-dependent, according to the researchers: More, and more intense, exercise shows bigger benefits. But that doesn’t mean you have to run marathons to see and feel improvement (though kudos to all you brain-boosting long-distance runners!). Think about your level of exercise currently. How could you give your current routine a boost? Maybe it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking the stairs a little faster, or adding a couple intervals of speed walking, jogging, or sprinting to your regular walk. Every little bit helps, and the more regularly you can add those bits of exercise, the more your brain and mood will benefit.

2023 Annual Report: Three resilience-building programs serve students

Quite a few hardy souls attended the Augustana chapter’s Run for Our Lives 5K in Sioux Falls on April 15 despite cold temperatures and rain at the end of the run. It was one of three events planned in April, but one (in Mitchell) was canceled due to weather. A 5K was held in Vermillion April 22.

The Peer2Peer Mentoring Program connects trained student mentors with students who could use extra support as they navigate college life.

Three female college students

In Spring 2023, the Peer2Peer Mentoring Program was available at South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota, Augustana University, Black Hills State University, Western Dakota Technical College, and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

By Spring 2023, we had trained 50 peer mentors and matched them with 61 mentees. We expanded the P2P Mentoring program to Southwest Minnesota State University in Fall 2023. Across all universities, by the end of the Fall 2023 semester, we had trained 48 peer mentors and matched them with 72 mentees.

Additional campuses have expressed interest in implementing the Peer2Peer Mentoring program. We plan to expand to Northern State University, Lake Area Technical College, Mount Marty, and the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (just to name a few) in 2024. 



In an interview with Student Programs Manager Carrie Jorgensen, two mentors in the Peer2Peer Mentorship program at South Dakota State University addressed why this program is needed on college campuses:

Peer2Peer mentors

Jenny Sengchanh (pictured at right in right photo, with her mentee, Kaylah R.): “This program is needed on college campuses because college can be stressful and is a moment in life where you are dealing with a lot of change.”

Jae Hanks (pictured at left): “I know as a freshman I was very overwhelmed with moving away from home, adjusting to college classes, and trying to make friends. This program helps ease that transition, introduces freshmen to more people, and gives them an opportunity to have a friend that can help with study tips, mental health tips, and anything else they may need. I would’ve loved to have this program when I was a freshman, and I think it is an extremely beneficial option for any student to use!”

Read the full interview.


Campus Lost&Found Chapters are student-led groups that focus on developing a sense of community at their campuses.

chapter logo

All students are welcome to join their campus-based Lost&Found chapter to learn about mental well-being, connect with other students, and be accepted for who they are.

Students also learn about resources available in their communities and on their campuses.

The following schools had a Lost&Found Chapter in 2023: Augustana University, Black Hills State University, Dakota Wesleyan University, South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, University of South Dakota-Sioux Falls, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities.

Several campus chapters focused on planning and implementing 5K fundraisers in Spring 2023. The South Dakota State University chapter hosted their 3rd Annual Zumbathon.

Campus chapters focused on student engagement during the Fall 2023 academic semester. Each chapter hosted monthly activities focused on education, creativity, self-care, and connecting with fellow students.


The L&F Advocates program trains students to better understand and care for their own mental health, equips students with tools for resilience and advocacy, and reduces the stigma of mental health in their campus communities.

Advocates logo

This program is available to all students at any school partnered with Lost&Found. Students who sign up for this program are assigned a cohort and expected to attend four learning sessions led by a Lost&Found staff member. Fourteen students actively participated in the Lost&Found Advocates program in Spring 2023. Six students completed all four sessions. In Fall 2023, seven students participated in this program with six attending all learning sessions.

Looking forward to 2024: The Lost&Found Advocates program will be revamped in 2024, removing the cohort component. Our goal is to make this program more accessible to student participants, allowing them to learn at their own pace.
Carrie Jorgensen, Student Programs Manager


Through House Bill 1079, the South Dakota State Legislature and Department of Health have demonstrated support for Peer2Peer Mentoring and Campus Chapters. These two programs focus on teaching students how to support one another in healthy, developmentally appropriate ways. Students are able to use the skills learned through Lost&Found programming as they enter the workforce and become more active members of their communities.


Read more in the 2023 annual report.

Erik Muckey will step down from CEO position at Lost&Found in October 2024

Erik Muckey speaks at the ribbon cutting for Lost&Found's new office space on Main Avenue in Sioux Falls.

Lost&Found is undergoing a change in leadership.

Erik Muckey, who has served as CEO/Executive Director since 2018, announced on May 15 that he is transitioning from that position to the role of part-time advisor to pursue other professional and personal opportunities. The change will take effect on October 1.

Muckey sees this as a time of strength and stability for the organization. Experienced managers are at the helm of their various departments, and in February, the board approved a five-year strategic plan that is now driving the work of the organization. After the end of pandemic-related funding prompted a recalibration in 2023, Lost&Found is now receiving funding from a diverse mix of sources. While nonprofit work always requires some hustle to continue to fund its mission, Lost&Found has put the pieces in place to maintain organizational and financial stability for some time to come.

“The main reason I’m comfortable transitioning from my role is the deep belief I have in our talented and committed staff who deliver peer support, high-quality research and evaluation, prevention training, and loss survivor services every day,” Muckey said. “The team at Lost&Found can and will address the roots of youth suicide in our region in ways no other organization can. I’m looking forward to seeing how this team meets the challenge, continues to innovate, and fundamentally changes lives.”

Muckey has been involved with Lost&Found for the organization’s entire existence. He was one of the five 18-year-olds who founded the organization in 2010. He served as the founding president of the University of South Dakota Lost&Found Chapter in 2011, became vice president of the board in 2012, and served as the board chair from 2012 to October 2018, when he assumed the role of CEO/Executive Director.

“Seeing this organization grow from the ideas and dreams of five 18-year-old South Dakotans to one of the most effective, impactful suicide prevention nonprofits in the country has been nothing short of incredible,” Muckey said. “To know we have touched more than 5.1 million lives across the country, serve over 40 communities annually in South Dakota and Minnesota, and are only just beginning to reach our full potential is the greatest success story I could share.”

Lost&Found Board President Brad Hearst says Muckey will leave a mighty legacy at Lost&Found.

“A great CEO is not just a leader,” Hearst said. “They are a catalyst for transformation and growth. They bring vision, strategy, and a relentless drive to achieve excellence. Their value lies not only in their ability to make tough decisions and drive results, but also in their capacity to inspire and empower those around them. A truly exceptional CEO leaves an indelible mark on an organization, shaping its culture, fostering innovation, and creating a legacy that extends far beyond their tenure. Their impact is measured not only in financial success, but in the lives they touch and the lasting positive change they bring. The value of a CEO is immeasurable, and Erik has been all that and more for Lost&Found.”

Lost&Found’s board has appointed a committee of qualified volunteers to find a new CEO. A job description has been posted on the organization’s website. The committee has set a goal of having a recommendation to the board for a new CEO by July 1. The new CEO would join Muckey on staff for a 45- to 60-day transition period.

“Succession is not just about finding a new leader,” Hearst said. “It’s about embracing the opportunity to shape the future and inspire others to do the same. Erik’s transition brings with it a sense of excitement, as it opens the door to new possibilities and the chance to lead the search for a worthy successor. It is a time to reflect on past achievements, but also to look forward with anticipation, knowing that the next chapter holds the potential for even greater success. Erik leaves tremendously large shoes to fill, but myself, the Board of Directors, and staff are truly embracing that journey.”

Muckey’s role as advisor will include supporting the new CEO and staff with the key initiatives that are underway, such as the Workplace Resilience Index, the Together We Do More! fundraising campaign, and the regional expansion of services.

Beyond this advisory role, Muckey will support Lost&Found and other organizations across the region through his firm, PASQ, which provides strategy advising services to nonprofits, local governments, economic development organizations, and key stakeholders supporting rural communities. Muckey is also currently a candidate for the South Dakota House of Representatives in District 15 and will appear on the ballot in the general election in November.

Muckey emphasizes that his departure will have no effect on the mission, vision, or values of the organization.

“I’ve seen and learned how much this mission means to me but also how much this mission is greater than me,” Muckey said. “It may seem challenging to see the tangible nature of Lost&Found’s work—especially when our work is keeping people well—but when you know how much suicide has impacted the people and communities we serve, every effort to prevent suicide and give someone hope is worth the effort.

“It has been the honor of my life to lead Lost&Found. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for South Dakotans under the age of 29, and Lost&Found’s mission will remain top of mind for me and every person in our organization. Please support our team in its efforts to ‘do more’ to prevent suicide and care for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. We need you today, and every day, until suicide is no longer impacting our world.”


About Lost&Found

Lost&Found facilitates comprehensive, data-driven, resilience-focused, public mental health strategies for suicide prevention and postvention, serving young adults ages 10-34. Lost&Found is the leading youth and young adult suicide prevention and postvention policy, research, peer support, and education organization in South Dakota and the surrounding region. Serving more than 40 communities in South Dakota, Minnesota, and the tribal nations within these states’ borders, Lost&Found’s focus on resilience, community-led prevention, and evidence-based practice make it a highly trusted and effective partner in the fight against youth and young adult suicide.

Lost&Found does work in four program areas:

  • Student Programs: Delivering resilience programs for schools & college campuses, and training student advocates to lead and support the mental health of their peers.
  • Evaluation & Research Services: Applying public health expertise to assess and score campus or organization resource capacity across people, policies, & programs and provide outsourced evaluation services.
  • Education & Advocacy: Addressing community and organization mental health needs through community coalition and policy efforts, targeted public mental health content, and partnership development.
  • Postvention Policy & Support: Providing direct support to survivors of suicide loss as well as consultation and support services to college campuses, workplaces, and other community partners to prepare for and respond to suicide loss across the Midwest.