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HOPE squad brings peer-to-peer help to teens in need at Phoenix Charter School

May 14, 2019

A dozen or so students were writing uplifting messages to hang up in their schools in early May.

After spring break the school started a peer-to-peer suicide prevention and intervention group called HOPE Squad, the first in Oregon but part of a nationwide network.

“Hold on pain ends” read one message, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible” read another. The messages were written on a red and white circle with the intent to make someone’s day better at Phoenix Charter School.

“It helps people who lose hope in living and don’t know how to be happy and need help,” sophomore Sadie Crook said. “Our job is to help them get to the people who can help them.”

Students are trained using the QPR (question, persuade, refer) method — when they see a fellow student in need they ask if the student is thinking about self harm or suicide, they persuade the student to seek help, and refer the problem to a counselor or other adult.

Students received training in the warning signs of were taught how to provide friendship and seek help.

“Instead of trying not to hit the hard question, it’s easier to put on a blank face,” junior Dezirae Quiroz said about asking people whether they’re thinking about self harm or suicide.

Hope Squad Adviser Gabrielle Webster said, “One of the things we learn is that you can’t put the thought of suicide in someone’s head. All the research shows that the thought is already there.”

Group members practiced their listening skills and talking points through skits.

While no students have committed suicide at the school in the past 18 years, there have been numerous attempts including some that ended with hospitalization.

Student also experience suicide in their personal lives, when family members or friends lost the will to live.

“My dad committed suicide,” Quiroz said. “It’s a big part of my life and it’s always on my mind.”

HOPE squad members were selected by their peers to be in the class.

“You have to be in the right frame of mind to help,” Webster said. “It can be stressful.”

Students who refer a peer to a counselor, also get debriefed on the situation to make sure they are doing alright after dealing with a stressful situation.

At least seven different students have sought help since the program’s inception six weeks ago.

“Cow Creek Welness approached us about the program,” Hope Squad Adviser Jordan Humphreys said. “They did research on QPR, supported us financially and helped us get an adviser who trained us and helped us get things ready.”

The school is hosting an unveiling of the program at 7 p.m. May 29 in the multi-purpose room at Phoenix Charter School. The event is free to attend, but people can register at http://phoenixhopesquad.eventbrite.co m.

HOPE Squad founder Greg Hudnall will present the program to the community. Hudnall has championed suicide prevention in school for more than 20 years.