Classmates and staff crowded around two sophomores on the stage of the Sheridan High School auditorium Wednesday afternoon. The students had advanced to become the final competitors in a game where listening skills and reaction time were paramount.
The pair of sophomores crouched between a marker that lay on the stage. At the sound of “marker,” they both reached for the coloring utensil, but one student grabbed it a split second before the other and received hearty applause.
The activity was part of training put on this week by Sources of Strength, a national organization that focuses on suicide prevention by forming positive connections between students and adults. Wednesday was the second and final day of training at Sheridan High School, which started a Sources of Strength group in fall 2015 that meets every other Tuesday before school and is open to all students.
Sources of Strength began in 1998 and emphasizes eight different areas that help prevent the risk of suicide: family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access and mental health. It focuses on high-schoolers and middle-schoolers but is working on efforts in colleges and elementary schools.
Sources of Strength national trainer Mish Bennett Moore led this week’s activities. On Tuesday, she talked with school counselors and community members in the morning and student leaders in the afternoon. During one of the conversations, Bennett Moore said it is important to realize students are not just the sum of their risks but are also the sum of their potential.
On Wednesday, all of the school’s sophomores participated in training for about 45 minutes during different parts of the day. They briefly discussed the eight key aspects, went over what constitutes a positive friend and completed various games.
To increase awareness about Sources of Strength at the school, the sophomores wrote thank-you cards to adults who serve as a source of strength to them and personally delivered the card to the adult by Friday. Near the school cafeteria, students also put up a construction paper display of a rainbow. On shamrocks, they wrote the names of adults who make them feel comfortable.
Junior Sources of Strength peer leader Jack Erramouspe spoke after one of the training sessions Wednesday afternoon. He called joining Sources of Strength one of the best decisions of his life and compared the group members to family members.
Sophomore Sources of Strength peer leader Jadynn Outland agreed and found the group to be extremely welcoming when she joined. Outland appreciated connections made this week with students not in Sources of Strengths.
“I think a lot of people, to be honest, didn’t really know about Sources of Strength or why we were here,” Outland said. “These past few days, I think I was surprised at the amount of participation in the games. Like, a lot of people normally are like, ‘Ugh, games; I’m not going to do that.’ But I’ve seen more participation in these past few days from my grade.”
Sophomore Sources of Strength peer leader Aly Begoon called the training a nice opportunity to open a barrier and introduce friends to Sources of Strength ideas.
Begoon and Erramouspe became more involved in the organization after attending an extremely rewarding retreat last year with several SOS members.
“I was able to let out some of the stuff that I was holding in, and I could see that a lot of other people had stuff going through them,” Erramouspe said.
Erramouspe referred to mental health challenges as invisible obstacles that can be harder to specifically address than physical wounds. He said conversations and pointing people toward potential resources can help lead to incremental improvement.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this is a rough subject, I don’t want to initiate; this is out of my comfort zone,’” Begoon said. “Now I feel like I’m more open where someone comes to me with a serious issue … I feel more confident in how I handle situations.”
As with most extracurriculars, the students have faced some resistance and been made fun of a bit for joining Sources of Strength. Overall, though, they said most people have been fairly receptive to the idea once they learn more about it.
The members also appreciated the variety of students involved in Sources of Strength who come from seemingly disparate backgrounds but share common concerns and anxieties.
“We’re all similar, even though we don’t think it,” sophomore Sources of Strength peer leader McKailyn Malles said.
Sophomore Sources of Strength peer leader Savannah Phillips said it was comforting to realize that everyone struggles with something or has gone through a rough time in the past.
“It takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders knowing that you’re not the only one going through certain things,” Phillips said.
Since joining Sources of Strength, Begoon said she has become more open and willing to reach out to others.
“I had this mentality of, ‘Well if you just don’t talk about it, then it’s not an issue,’” Begoon said. “But it really is an issue … If you can make one person feel better or steer them in the right direction, I feel like that’s more what we are trying to (do).”
With more awareness and support, Sources of Strength appears to be on the right path toward gradually making change for the better.