American Indian community leaders have worked together to create the Native Youth Crisis Hotline to help talk down community members contemplating suicide.

American Indians age 15 to 24 are three times more likely to commit suicide than any other racial or ethnic group, says Pat Shepard, a Minneapolis social worker and member of Wisconsin’s Lac du Flambeau tribe who proposed the hotline.

The 24-hour hotline will be operated by Women of Nations, a group that supports battered women and their families and runs its own hotline. The new hotline plans to serve people up to 18.

Organizers are passing out business cards and literature to American Indians across the state to spread the word, but they’re hoping word of mouth will reach even more people who might benefit from the hotline.

More than 30 Minnesota agencies and community groups have supported the hotline. Almost $40,000 has been spent on its development and it is estimated it will cost $280,000 a year to operate.

But participants and proponents of the suicide hotline believe the monetary cost is more than worth the lives that could be saved if the hotline is successful in giving American Indians contemplating suicide the help they need. Among them is Shepard. She understands the problem all too well; her brother committed suicide. And she was conducting research to develop the hotline when teenager Jeff Weise killed nine people on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota before turning a gun on himself.

Shepard told the Associated Press, “We’re losing children very quick, very fast. If those kids had a number to call, maybe that could prevent it.”