Love for Life: Haley W. Takes Action to Help Combat Suicide through Education and Community Building
After several people in Huron Valley, Michigan committed suicide,
Girl Scout Haley W. from Girl Scouts Southeastern Michigan, decided to
take action to help combat a devastating epidemic in her community and
around the country. For her Gold Award project, she created We Stand
Together, a multi-level program to educate K-12 students on mental
health and suicide preventio
Haley’s program teaches children in kindergarten through fifth grade about the importance of building a caring community and being nice to each other, middle school students about stress management skills and understanding mental health, and high school students about suicide, the warning signs, preventative measures, and how to reach out for support.
Although each day of the week-long program contains age appropriate education for each group, some activities are the same for everyone. For example, every student receives a personalized message on their locker or desk, such as “You Matter,” or other positive quotes. And every school receives a We Stand Together banner that kids are encouraged to sign to help show their unity to one another and their community.
So far, We Stand Together has impacted 11 schools and over 9,000 students in the Huron Valley School District, making it a more inclusive and understanding place to live. Many teachers are already seeing positive changes in their students thanks Haley’s program, which plans to expand its incredible influence to surrounding communities in the future.
Q: Why did you choose this topic for your Gold Award project?
A: In the Huron Valley Community where I live, there have been eight suicides in the last five years, bringing an important issue to the surface. Throughout the United States, 30,000 people commit suicide every year. From those, over one third are between the ages of 8 to 18. In addition, one person in the U.S. commits suicide every 16.2 minutes, and those rates are on the rise.
Many states have several programs that focus on suicide prevention, but Michigan only has one. Evidence has proven that a program like this was greatly needed in my community, so I decided to take action against something that was devastating my town.
Q: What kind of impact has resulted from your project, and how will
it be sustainable?
A: With a direct impact on about 9,000 students plus parents, siblings, community members, and teachers, the overall impact comes to about 30,000 people. We Stand Together connected people with the resources necessary to start a change in their mental health challenges.
The Huron Valley Schools Community has become a more inclusive and understanding place to live. Many teachers have seen changes in the students’ mindsets and an increased compassion for other students, skills that will help the world be a better place overall.
The Huron Valley Community Coalition, in partnership with Huron Valley Schools, have agreed to fund and continue all future programming. We Stand Together started off as a student-run program and will stay that way throughout the years. High school students will create and run middle school programming, while the middle school students will create and run elementary school programming.
Lakeland Students Leading Students, a student led group that focuses on making the Huron Valley Community a safer place to live, will take over adjusting programming, scheduling, and getting volunteers involved.
In the recent months following We Stand Together weeks I have received several messages from different communities in Michigan and a district in Ohio. In years to come We Stand Together will be in multiple states and communities. The impact of the We Stand Together program will only continue to grow as time passes, which is imperative to creating a greater understanding about mental health as a whole.
Q: What did you discover about yourself as a result of working on
your Gold Award project, and what did you learn?
A: When I started working on my Gold Award project I never imagined that I would have become a different person, let alone find what I want to do for the rest of my life.
With the skills I have gained from my Gold Award project, I have discovered I have an interest in pursuing a career as a politician so that I can help write public policy to help those who suffer with mental health challenges.
Without completing my Gold Award I may not have the leadership skills or passion I have today. I learned that with the help of my community and my family, anything is possible. Making a difference is something that anyone can do if they have the drive and passion top do it. I learned that I am capable of great things, and that my ideas are worthy and possible.
Additionally I learned how to present an idea to a group of people and ask for their support; and through this I learned that people don’t buy the “what you do,” they buy the “why you do it.” With a clear and positive message, gaining support was a simple task.
Most of all I discovered my passion for mental health and helping people.
Q: What has being a Girl Scout meant to you?
A: I owe a lot of who I am today to the Girl Scout program and leadership. The leadership, life skills, and organizational abilities I have used in my Gold Award, Silver Award, and multiple service projects and badges I have completed, have taught me skills I will use throughout my life.