Hope Squad

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Equipping our Schools to Prevent 2nd Leading Cause Of Death Ages 10-24

By Peggy Brockman, Hope Squad Master Trainer

We think we know our children. Almost every parent who has lost or almost lost a child to suicide will tell you they had no idea. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people ages 10-24. The rate has increased nationally 57.4% since 2007. In the state of Florida, the increase was 29.4% in 2016-18 over 2007-09. Okaloosa County experienced 30 deaths by suicide in this 10-24 age group between 2014 and 2018. ONE is too many and 30 is a number we must do something about NOW.

In March of 2019, David Triana, founder of United for a Good Cause, Inc., contacted me to discuss the possibility of Bullying and Suicide Prevention as the topic of our next YOUth LEADership Conference. Having a grandson who attempted suicide, I jumped on the task of researching it. It was astounding to discover the number of suicide deaths in Okaloosa and surrounding counties among our youth population. This was WAY bigger than just a YOUth LEADership Conference, so we researched programs throughout the country to possibly implement in our schools.

And that’s how the very successful Peer to Peer HOPE Squad Suicide Prevention program we discovered Provo, UT, was born right here in Okaloosa County. United for a Good Cause, Inc., our 501(c)(3) organization, sent me to meet the teachers and students, train and further research the program. They went from two to five suicides per year in their area to ZERO for the past 15 years in the founding school and only ONE in the district over that timeframe! Now more than 800 schools around the country are using this program.

NIceville Strong HOPEWe presented the program to Okaloosa County superintendent Marcus Chambers in June of 2019, and in December 2019, the HOPE Squad program was unanimously voted in by the Okaloosa County School Board to be implemented in every school in the district. We committed to pulling the community together and raising the money. Eglin Federal Credit Union stepped up to take the Title Sponsorship and donated $50,000 to stand the program up. Cox Employees donated $5,000, Emerald Coast Harley Davidson pledged $10,000 and Niceville Strong pledged $10,000 to sponsor Niceville High School. Alycia Dukes with Emerald Coast Ladies of Justice, Vickie Edge with Edge of Paradise Spa and others held fundraisers to help as well. With their generosity, we certified 51 teacher advisors in April to open the program in 16 middle and high schools in the county along with the multi-grade K-12 and K-8 public schools. Peer nominations for Hope Squad members have been requested in schools around the county. With your help, we will stand up the program in 19 elementary schools in January 2021. And yes, unfortunately it is needed for that young age group.

The program begins in 4th grade with a focus on connectedness and kindness, those concepts extending into the secondary grades. It has been shown that 75% of kids will tell a peer they are thinking about suicide and will swear them to secrecy. The pressure on those peers is tough, especially if it is completed. With this program, Hope Squad members are trained on how to respond and help that student get to a qualified adult who can help them. They keep their eyes open for the kid sitting by themselves and they join them and engage with them, making them feel important and offering friendship and HOPE at a time in life when there sometimes seems to be none.

Now more than ever, your help is needed to bring mental illness and suicide out of the dark and help us create awareness of this very serious and growing problem. Join us at United for a Good Cause, Inc., in our mission to HELP SAVE OUR KIDS AND FAMILIES! You can donate and learn more at www.BringHopeNow.com. Sponsor a school. Volunteer to help with projects and support the cause. Hold a fundraiser at your business. Every dollar counts and it will take ALL of us to chip in just a little to bring this program to every school in the county. Email u4gchs@gmail.com or call 850-259-8356. For further information, visit www.bringhopenow.com or www.unitedforagoodcause.org.