The program accomplishes its mission by recruiting and training a diverse group of peer leaders, working collaboratively with adults, to “leverage their personal and collective leadership qualities as well as their social influence in leading the charge in norming and culture change campaigns using strength-based messages…”
Last week, about 25 Henry County High School (HCHS) students who had been nominated by staff members participated in Sources of Strength training, facilitated by a certified trainer from Centerstone. Students were led in a number of sharing activities and fun games, but were also provided information on how they could “spread hope, help and strength” at HCHS to those who may be exhibiting signs of depression, trauma, substance abuse, aggressive or impulsive behavior or extreme anxiety.
“The training was very resourceful, and I thought it would really help in making our school a better place and improving our school’s kindness,” said junior Eli Amiott, one of the peer leaders. “I think this is a great opportunity to help other people and be a part of something that could make the school a better place. I just hope people are more kind to each other and help each other out and be more of a community and a family rather than just a school.”
Junior Chassity Schaffer also signed up to be a peer leader, and said she enjoyed the training because it was so interactive. She hopes other students will see the peer leaders as a non-threatening resource.
“I hope that people would start to come to us if they need some sort of strength or help,” Schaffer said. “There are kids here that just need someone to talk to – somebody to turn to.”
Sources of Strength encourages peer leaders to help youth in need by connecting them to a “source of strength,” which could be family support, positive friends, mentors, healthy activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access or mental health services. Peer leaders will plan and implement campaigns and activities that promote those sources.
“For the remainder of the school year, the goal will be to raise awareness of the program and introduce it to the student body,” said HCHS Guidance Counselor Chad Rose “Going into next year there will be several campaigns, mostly planned and executed by our student leaders, that will be used to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health wellness and hopefully create an even more positive environment for our student body.”
Rose added that Sources of Strength will work well alongside other programs recently initiated at HCHS including Youth Strong, the school’s H.O.P.E. groups and the Project Happiness Club. Individually and collectively, these programs address what many in education consider to be a rise in mental health issues among youth – a statistic that even Kentucky’s legislation seeks to address with the recent passage of Kentucky's School Safety Bill, which, in part, calls for more mental health counselors in schools.
Henry County Public Schools district school psychologist Sean Reeder also attributes the newfound emphasis to the fact that stigma around mental health has decreased, allowing more students to actively seek help. Many of those students will do so at school.
“The demands and expectations that schools and parents have placed on students has steadily been increasing beyond what may be developmentally appropriate for them,” Reeder said. “If schools are contributing to the debilitating stress and other mental health issues that some students are facing, it is the schools’ responsibility to teach our students how to appropriately cope and manage their stress and work through their mental health issues.”
Sebastian Limones, a sophomore, admits he rarely expresses his feelings but usually turns to humor as a coping mechanism. He joined Sources of Strength hoping he could make a difference or even be given a chance to change someone’s life.
“I hope people notice us, and that changes happen. People don’t need to act like somebody they’re not. I hope people can feel like they can just be themselves. They don’t need to pretend to be anything or anybody they’re not,” Limones said.
Limones and other peer leaders, along with the adults involved in the program, all expressed their hope that individual lives could be bettered, which would in turn positively impact the overall culture of HCHS.
“My hope is that Sources of Strength will further the sense of community and support that Henry County already demonstrates,” Reeder said, “but in an intentional way that focuses on encouraging positivity, highlighting strengths and building connections between and within our students and adults in the school.”