Students hope work on suicide prevention leaves lasting impression
FISHER — Hannah Fink and Cameron Heiser will graduate from Fisher High School in May.
But they and the rest of Bob Lindsay's first-semester economics class might have left a legacy that will carry on long after they graduate.
Fisher High will soon become one of two high schools in Illinois — Lockport High School is the other — to have a Yellow Ribbon suicide prevention program, a way for someone feeling like harming himself to ask for help without saying a word.
Heiser said the soon-to-be developed chapter submitted an application for becoming a chapter recently, and Fink said in the "next couple of weeks" Fisher High will have the organization.
The goal is to prevent teen suicide through the use of yellow ribbon cards, a business card that a person contemplating harm to himself can give to someone. It lists three suggestions for the recipient: stay with the person, listen to him or her and get help.
"The cards are for kids to carry, and they're going to be available here at school and hopefully at a variety of businesses and churches," Lindsay said. "What it's designed to do is they carry the card. That's kind of their way of signaling for help, even if they don't know what to say. That's one of the other things I like about this program is it really draws the community in because we have to talk to area church leaders, mentors, business people, parents and grandparents. If a kid walks up to you and hands you that card, you need to know what to do with it."
The group will hold a badminton tournament as a fundraiser, most likely in late March, to raise funds to buy the cards and to have speakers come in to talk about teen suicide and depression.
"We take badminton very seriously here at Fisher High School," Heiser said with a smile.
The chapter stems from a group project in Lindsay's class. Students had to choose a non-profit organization and build a fundraiser for it. It blossomed into not only a fundraiser, but also a full-fledged group both Heiser and Fink want to keep intact even after they graduate.
"I'm passionate about it because I know that online bullying, in-school bullying and texting is becoming a huge relevant cause in the area and everywhere," Fink said. "Teenagers are just plain mean to each other. A lot of times, people don't really realize what people are actually feeling underneath. They don't realize the thoughts going through other people's heads before they say the stuff that they do to people. It sometimes affects them more than they think, and it can lead to teen suicide."
Heiser wants to take a proactive approach.
"I look at it, and here at Fisher, I don't see it, but I know that it goes on," Heiser said. "Because of that, I want to make it aware to everyone else that these things are happening, and you won't even see it until something bad does happen."
"It's something that has hit the headlines around here — maybe not Fisher, but certainly close to us," Lindsay said. "The thing about this project is, as far as I can see, it fills a void. There are a lot of kids out there that are struggling, and they simply don't know where to turn. We saw an opportunity. It gives kids one more avenue to find some help. That's really the key. Teenagers do things kind of rash sometimes. It's at that heat of the moment where we want them to be able to understand that there's another option."
Lindsay said reluctance to talk about teen suicide is part of the problem.
"There are people out there that will tell you, 'Oh, we shouldn't talk about it because kids won't know about it.' Well, they know about it," Lindsay said. "It's another one of those subjects that make a lot of people uncomfortable, but just because it makes adults uncomfortable doesn't mean that you don't have to talk about it. I think that with teen suicide, if we can — through a project like this — keep one kid from attempting suicide, it's worth it. At the same time, we may not know or ever know, that some kid actually used their card."
Heiser said he hopes the program might catch on at other schools.
"Fisher is a small community," Heiser said. "If we just kept this program locally, it wouldn't affect as many people if we try and branch off. We have quite a few friends from different areas, whether it's Rantoul, Gibson City, Mahomet or Champaign, and we're hoping to send this program and send these cards out to different schools."
Principal Tom Shallenberger is all for it.
"I'm very fortunate to have such quality kids in this school," he said. "It's a quality community, and the kids are fantastic here. I think that it's nice to know that we might help other schools identify kids that have issues. Hopefully, this can snowball into the whole area. Anytime that you can help kids is a good thing."
Even though Fink will graduate in two months, she wants Fisher High to keep the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention program in place.
"We're going to talk about juniors and sophomores that we think are responsible and will be able to keep this program going from year-to-year," she said. "Our plans are to keep this program growing. We're not just going to be done after this year."