Hope4Utah holds first Hope Squad conference

Audience members listen to a speaker during the Hope Squad Conference at Vivint in Provo on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. The conference aimed to teach others about suicide intervention and starting a Hope Squad peer program at their schools. JAMES ROH/Daily Herald

Hope4Utah held their first annual Hope Squad conference Friday in Provo. The Hope Squad is a program for seventh to 12th graders that focuses on suicide prevention and intervention. The conference brought together parents, school counselors, state and local mental health professionals, social workers and advisors from more than 50 secondary and charter schools from across Utah.

The recent suicide in Florida of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick is tragically familiar to State Crisis Team Coordinator for Hope4Utah Greg Hudnall. 15 years ago, while the principal of Independence High School, Hudnall was asked by police to help identify a young suicide victim. "I remember thinking, why would such a young person want to die? I also made a promise, then and there, that I would do all I could the rest of my days to prevent another child from taking their life," Hudnall said.

In order to prevent teen suicide, Hudnall brought together Provo School District, state and local mental health professionals, universities, churches and other community members. Hudnall said they scoured the country to find programs that were actually making a difference in teen suicide. The organization Hope4Utah and their peer to peer youth program, the Hope Squad, grew from this collaboration.

Hudnall said a school Hope Squad is overseen by adults but relies on students. He said the students are taught to recognize signs of depression and then support that peer going to an adult for help. They learn the technique QPR: Question whether they are having suicidal thoughts, Persuade them to get help, and Refer them to the appropriate professional. The members of Hope Squads are chosen because their classmates feel safe around them. Hudnall said, "The Hope Squad is not there to be a therapist and solve all their problems. Their job is to listen and get help."

Although Utah ranks consistently as one of the top ten states for suicide deaths for ages 15 to 24 years, in the eight years since the Hope Squad was started, Provo's five secondary schools have had no completed suicides.

Kim Miller works for the Box Elder School district overseeing crisis intervention. She attended the conference with counselors from all of Box Elder's secondary schools. "We really, really need this. We've been watching Provo district and their success is really phenomenal." Miller said Box Elder County is struggling with a high teen suicide rate. Already this year, two students in Box Elder schools have completed suicide intentions. She said, "In a small community everyone is touched by suicide."

Miller said Hudnall and Hope4Utah are doing important work. She said involving students in the process is a key part of saving teens. She said often parents don't recognize the warning signs but she believes friends do. The Hope Squad is the added piece of suicide prevention, "I tell kids that it's better to have a mad friend than a dead friend. Kids don't want to die. They want to stop their pain," Miller said.  

The conference took place at Vivint headquarters. Holly Mero-Bench, manager of Vivint Gives Back, said she and Josh Houser, foundation president, chose to support Hope4Utah "because every child's life is precious." In addition to hosting the conference, Vivint is playing an active role in fundraising and helping to redesign Hope4Utah's logo. On Saturday morning, the 9th annual Walk for Hope, which honors those affected by suicide, is at Vivint, located at 4931 N. 300 West Provo. Walk check in begins at 8 a.m.

Hope4Utah volunteers are available to provide training for administrator, teachers, students, communities and churches. To schedule a speaker, or for more information about the Walk of Hope, please contact Cathy Bledsoe at (801) 374-4802 or cathyb@provo.edu.

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