Aurora youth center shines light on teen suicide

By Erika Wurst For Chronicle Media

Members of the Simply Destinee Youth Center gather to talk and share at the Simply Destinee studio, 416 High St., Aurora. (Photo courtesy of Simply Destinee Youth Center)

Last year, in honor of suicide prevention month, Liza Oliva headed to the dollar store with little cash in hand and purchased as much tissue paper, glue and glitter as she could in hopes of raising awareness.

Oliva, and her students at Simply Destinee Youth Center in Aurora, took the materials and crafted them into light bulbs, hoping to “shine a light on those in darkness,” Oliva said.

The bulbs were displayed at both Aurora libraries, and in her mind, the mission was a success. Still, Oliva was hoping for a bigger budget and a bigger venue to help spread her message.

This year, instead of walking into the store with dollars in hand, Oliva and her students will have a $10,000 budget for their street art project, thanks to a Dunham Fund grant that will sponsor the endeavor.

“When I got the grant, I started bawling,” Oliva, who lost her 16-year old-daughter Destinee to suicide in 2010, said. “It was like people were finally listening. They realize we need to talk about this.”

Artists, family members of those affected by suicide, and Simply Destinee students are among those who will be creating this year’s bulb. The pieces of art will be displayed in Downtown Aurora, at the Fox Valley Mall, at the Chicago Premium Outlets and at both Aurora library branches.

On Sept. 9, the public is invited to downtown Aurora where Simply Destinee Youth Center will be hosting a suicide walk for awareness. They will visit each bulb stationed downtown and give the community an opportunity to view the art and raise a tough subject.

“Let’s finally address this issue because it’s an issue no one wants to talk about,” Oliva said. “It’s a dark subject, but at the same time we are losing too many kids.”

Simply Destinee Youth Center in Aurora participated in Aurora’s National Night Out events held earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Simply Destinee Youth Center)

Since losing her own daughter, Oliva has become an outspoken advocate who is not afraid to talk about suicide and its stigma.

She and her brother founded Simply Destinee to empower local youth and give them a place where they’ll never feel alone.

Through dance classes, art therapy, group therapy, gardening and other activities, Oliva said she hopes participants can find meaning in their lives.

“I have had some students say, ‘If it weren’t for you guys, I wouldn’t be here.’,” Oliva said. “To hear that is empowering. We’re making a difference. It may not be a huge difference, but for these kids it is. I lost my daughter, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to have her back. At least now we can try to make a difference so someone else doesn’t go through what I did.”

In addition to the street art project, there will be a candlelight vigil held on Sept. 10, International World Suicide Awareness Day. The vigil will be held at the Simply Destinee studio, 416 High St., Aurora.

Members of the Simply Destinee Youth Center in Aurora created the paper mache light bulb that symbolizes the group’s mission to shine light on suicide awareness. These will be on display throughout Aurora streets in September. (Photo courtesy of Simply Destinee Youth Center)

On Sept. 20, Oliva will join members of Suicide Prevention Services and the Kane County Sheriff’s Department to host a seminar regarding suicide awareness at the Aurora Public Library.

Several dance performances are also scheduled throughout the month in hopes of spreading the Simply Destinee message.

“Suicide can impact anybody. It can affect a teenager or an adult in the same way,” Oliva said. “For me what this is about is making sure another family doesn’t have to go through what we go through on a daily basis (after losing Destinee). Life is hard enough to go through, and now it’s 10 times harder.”

For more information on the events happening throughout September, visit





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