EATON — On Friday evening, May 13, the Preble County Fairgrounds was filled with family-friendly activities all in the name of suicide prevention and awareness at this year’s Hope Fair, presented by the Hope Squads from Eaton, National Trail, Preble Shawnee, Tri-County North and Twin Valley South schools.
The Hope Fair’s goal is “to bring many communities together and spread awareness of suicide and depression.”
“This is our fourth annual Hope Fair, put on by Preble County high school and now middle school Hope Squads. It’s to raise awareness for suicide prevention and do some fundraising for the activities they do in the schools to help with suicide prevention,” advisor Michelle Gebhart said.
Preble Shawnee, National Trail and Tri-County North schools all added Hope Squads at the middle school level this year as well, according to Gebhart.
Preble Shawnee and Eaton Community Schools both created actual classes for their Hope Squads.
“Preble Shawnee has been a full year class,” Gebhart said. “They earn a grade, they do their trainings, they do their activity planning. They do a lot of awareness, like media things on Mondays, and they just do a lot of different activities. Eaton is a semester class. We have it this semester. We spenda lot of time doing the curriculum that they’re trained in. But we’re able to take that curriculum and expand it since we have more time with them. And then again, just planning the activities they do to promote positivity in the schools.”
“I know at Shawnee during that class time they’ve been mentoring their middle school squad,” she added. “So at some point, you know, if we get an Eaton Middle School squad we will be kind of planning that out as well.”
Hope Fair has grown tremendously since its first year, according to Gebhart. “We’ve added activities. We’ve gotten a lot more community support since the first year. I believe we have bigger attendance — this is the first year we’re counting. I feel like it’s a decent crowd.”
The community involvement has grown since the first Hope Fair as well, according to Gebhart.
“Our DJ is the husband of a National Trail employee. Our photo booth gentleman this year is the parent of National Trail Hope Squad students. We have a lot of parent involvement as well as staff involved,” she said.
Hope Squad members are more in touch with what is going on with their classmates, on social media, etc. “I’ve seen the Hope Squad members through learning and recognizing signs and how you talk to people, are really more aware in their schools than maybe they were before, and we’ve had some good conversations where they’ve said, where before, maybe if my close friend was struggling, I noticed but I didn’t really pay attention. I wasn’t really mindful of everyone else around — and now they kind of view the whole school and social media. They’re watching on social media all the time. And then they’re able to respond to that person and get them to the advisors for that help,” Gebhart noted. “Whereas that was the missing link before — those eyes and ears.”
“I would say as far as the students, I think as Hope Squad has become more visible and become more present in their schools, students are reaching out to Hope Squad members. I know with Eaton, we’ve had students reach out through Instagram, direct message,” she added. “They have an Instagram account. I think all of our squads do. We’ve had other students reach out when the high school has been down in the middle school doing some education. Some of the middle schoolers will then talk to them or reach out to them. So I think just seeing them be more visible, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is someone I can talk to that isn’t an adult.’”
Hope Squad members will talk with kids about different topics, not only suicide.
“But we have had students reach out who have thought about suicide. I can tell you there’ve been probably five or six situations in the last couple of years, that our Hope Squads have saved the life of a peer because they noticed something then came straight to the adults. And we were able to get that crisis intervention and save an individual,” Gebhart said.
“I think if we shared the statistics we collect when we do suicide prevention week, I think the community would be shocked at the percentage of kids we had this current school year. It was right around 10 percent.
“We did programming for about 2,200 students in the county and 10 percent reported attempting suicide within the year leading up to it,” Gebhart said. “It’s a very high number, we would not be able to bounce back from losing 10 percent of our students. So something’s happening that is preventing that.
“When I look at the statistics, we have 30 percent that are at risk for depression. But we have like 10 (percent) that think about suicide and 10 (percent) that attempt. They’re getting help within that week. If we hit 30 percent thinking about suicide or having attempted that would be staggering. So, they’re getting the help, whether it’s through the Hope Squads, through that mental health within the schools, through the school staff — school staffs, I think have become more aware of the issue too. Just having the Hope Squads.”
“We’ve really tried to make it peer-to-peer so that, you know, they’re reaching their peers and it’s not adults talking all the time, and but there are staff in all of our schools that kids tend to gravitate towards. And those staff will then let the Hope Squads know and let the advisors know, so there is good communication,” Gebhart added.
From bounce houses, to a car smash, carnival games and food concessions, attendees could have a fun evening out during Hope Fair. T-shirts were also available.
‘It’s a free event. But some of our activities do have some money involved and that’s the fundraiser,” Gebhart said. “That money stays 100 percent with the Hope Squads. Whatever that total amount is at the end of the day, it’s split between the five schools.”
The Hope Squad’s online store, where shirts can purchased, is available at https://tinyurl.com/3ns2wj37.