Ellen Harris: Great Women of Texas Angel Award

🕐 3 min read

Ellen Harris dedicates her life to those who have suffered tragic losses of loved ones.

She understands how they feel, the support they need, because she has been there, too.

Harris and her husband, Tom, suffered painful and devastating loss of children twice. The couple’s first child, Seth Jonathan Harris, died four months after his birth in 1988 of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Despite their crushing grief the couple found a way to cope, honoring their son by helping others who experienced a similar tragedy. They founded a local chapter of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Foundation in Fort Worth.

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Although they had no nonprofit experience, they raised $4 million for outreach and research on the syndrome. The nonprofit eventually merged into a national organization devoted to SIDS.

The couple was able to find joy and normalcy with the arrival of three more children, Jordan, Matt and Elisha. Harris worked  as a reservation agent for American Airlines, a job she had for 28 years, while raising her three children.

Yet, she always found ways to help others, even taking in a young boy whose mother died in a car accident until his father could make other arrangements for him.

While all three of the couple’s children were happy and successful, Jordan stood out as a scholar/athlete who was valedictorian of her high school class and a National Merit Scholarship winner.

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Jordan shared her parents’ passion for helping others, volunteering at Catholic Charities in Fort Worth and spearheading an effort to collect supplies for medical facilities in Ghana while attending the University of Michigan.

But then tragedy struck again. After suffering a short bout of depression, Jordan committed suicide in 2012.

Again stricken with staggering grief, Tom and Ellen struggled to understand Jordan’s pain. As they searched helpful resources, they discovered a void in suicide prevention training and education in Tarrant County.

Two years later, the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation was founded as a legacy to Jordan’s life and to fill the void in suicide prevention and education services in the county. The foundation serves more than 70 schools and 80,000 students with its Hope Squad suicide prevention program. With a staff of five, it has trained 20,000 individuals in suicide prevention techniques and has dispensed more than $500,000 in depression research funding.

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In 2017, Tom and Ellen, along with several friends and colleagues, carried out a two-month, cross-country bike ride called “Light the Trail” to raise awareness of suicide prevention. The campaign raised more than $1 million.

“The reason the work of the Jordan E. Harris Foundation is so important to me is because I know what it means to lose a loved one to suicide and I want to do whatever I can to help others to not have to experience the same thing,” Harris said. “We as a family did not recognize the warning signs that would have alerted us to our daughter’s suicidal thoughts.”

“The training the foundation provides teaches people to recognize those signs and train them what to do with that knowledge,” she said.

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