PREBLE COUNTY — HOPE Squads are organized in every single Preble County school district, founded to spread suicide awareness and training throughout their individual schools.
However, on Monday, Dec. 9 the five HOPE Squads met for the first time as one large Preble County HOPE Squad.
There are 87 students total within the five HOPE Squads, and 84 of those individuals attended the first county-wide training. All 10 adult advisors were also in attendance for this training.
Michelle Gebhart, with Gebhart Counseling Solutions LLC, explained, “In most areas, HOPE Squads are developed by a school and managed strictly by the school. In Preble county, we as a community have a unique situation with our HOPE Squads in that they are a collaborative effort between the five county high schools, Gebhart Counseling Solutions, LLC, and the Preble County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
“The PCMHRB has provided the funding required to develop the HOPE Squads and Gebhart Counseling is providing therapists to serve as co-advisors with school staff for the HOPE Squads. Because of this collaboration, we feel it is important to bring the five HOPE Squads together as one at times. Though each high school has their own HOPE Squad, we ultimately have one large ‘Preble County HOPE Squad.’ The five high school HOPE Squads will be having monthly cross-trainings and each individual HOPE Squad will then have weekly meetings at their respective schools.”
She added, when developing the HOPE Squads, they felt increasing collaboration and community between the five squads was important for their development and growth. This way, students can network with each other, provide additional peer support, and meet new peers with similar values and goals.
“Bringing all five together also allows the advisors the ability to collaborate and seek support from each other. We feel this model will strengthen the HOPE Squads we are developing by increasing support to all involved,” she said. “This first training was for team-building and getting to know who our HOPE Squads are. The squads identified what gives them hope in their own lives and created a HOPE wall. This was to get them thinking along the lines of HOPE in general, as well as provide them with an activity they can do within their own schools.
“They then participated in a get-to-know you activity in which they spent time meeting and talking to other HOPE Squad members from schools other than their own for the purpose of building the HOPE Squad community. They had lunch together and then broke into their school groups to talk about planning activities and creating a budget to propose to school superintendents and other possible funding sources for start-up costs for their squads.
“Our goal with this first cross-county training was to help the students feel comfortable with being a member of the HOPE Squads as well as reach out and make social connections with other HOPE Squad members. We feel this connection will be important as the squads begin to reach out to students in their schools. Knowing other HOPE Squad members gives the students another level of support in their efforts to increase suicide awareness, increase kindness and positively in their schools, and ultimately change the school culture.”
“We’re just a small group from a small town trying to make a big impact on the world,” National Trail HOPE Squad member Paige Lee, said.
TCN HOPE Squad member, Jaelyn Hawkins, added, “Having HOPE can change lives.”
“Being in the HOPE squad makes me feel like I’m making a difference in others lives, which makes a difference in mine. Helping others helps to make me happy,” Preble Shawnee HOPE Squad member Stephanie Howard, said.
Moving forward, the plan is to have monthly half-day cross-county training sessions with all five HOPE Squads. Gebhart explained, the HOPE Squad model has a specific four-year curriculum which they will continue to train the students from during these sessions. Some of the training topics include QPR training (Question, Persuade, Refer), suicide warning signs, how to help a friend, setting boundaries, and staying grounded.
“The HOPE Squads ultimately have the ability and power to change the culture of their schools. Peer to peer mentoring has been proven to be effective in reaching students earlier, providing students with increased support, and preventing suicidal behaviors from escalating. Students at risk for suicidal behavior are more likely to confide in a friend than an adult. Through HOPE Squads, we are able to train students on how to handle these conversations that are already occurring in our schools. We feel meeting with them weekly not only provides the HOPE Squad members with consistent support and guidance, but also helps them achieve the goals each group will set within their schools. The HOPE Squads are the link between the students and the adults than can help,” Gebhart said.
“The HOPE Squads originated in Utah after communities there experienced high rates of student suicidal behavior. GrantUsHOPE, an organization in Cincinnati, has been key in the development of HOPE Squads in the Cincinnati and Dayton area. GrantUsHope has been working closely with Preble County partners to help bring HOPE Squads to our area. The development of our HOPE Squads has been a collaborative effort between GrantUsHope, the Preble County Schools, Gebhart Counseling Solutions, LLC, and the Preble County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
“In addition to advisor trainings and student nomination processes, we held student/parent orientation meetings last month in which we had most parents attend. In order for HOPE Squads to be successful, we need school involvement and support as well as parent involvement and support. The parents learned what HOPE Squads are and how their children were chosen by their peers to be members of the HOPE Squads. Our HOPE Squads consist of a cross-section of students, which is what adds to the effectiveness of the squads,” she said.
“After completing this process and holding the parent-student orientation sessions, we have had several parents volunteer to be ‘HOPE Squad Parents.’ These individuals will offer informal support to the HOPE Squad members and HOPE Squads as a whole. The development of the HOPE Squads in Preble County has become a community effort, which we are pleased to see,” Gebhart added.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH