During Mental Health Week, a special fair was held during which organizations and professionals addressed the school community. Courtesy photo
During Mental Health Week, a special fair was held during which organizations and professionals addressed the school community. Courtesy photo
For members of the St. Rose High School community in Belmar, Mental Health Awareness is more than a specially designated month or a hashtag on social media.  Since 2019, advocating for those who experience mental health struggles has been a focus of action and advocacy for St. Rose students, teachers and advisers.

At the invitation of the Manasquan-based Culleystrong Foundation, following the school’s participation in their fundraising walk in the spring of 2019, St. Rose will become the first school in New Jersey to participate in the Hope Squad program, a national peer-to-peer suicide prevention program, made possible by a four-year grant from the Foundation.

After faculty advisors were trained by the Hope Squad, which is headquartered in Utah, student members participated in various training modules. A prime training focus is teaching members to be good listeners, using the QPR technique (Question, Persuade, Refer). This process informs a student’s peer interactions, sensitizing them to recognize signs of a possible crisis.

Students, who are not meant to be counselors, learn to be present to their peers and to recognize and refer students to faculty or guidance counselors when signs of distress are evident. The ultimate goal is to reduce youth suicide through education, training and peer intervention – goals which are also part of the Culleystrong Foundation mission.

The Foundation was established by the Culley family following the death by suicide of their son, Sean, at the age of 19 while a college freshman. When he was a student in St. Rose, Sean was a standout in sports and relationships with others, always open and willing to listen to the struggles and joys of his peers. The Foundation mission reflects his goals and qualities: “To allow Sean to continue to help others through education, suicide prevention, mental health awareness, as well as supporting his passion for good sportsmanship, kind deeds and athletics.”

The Hope Squad at St. Rose hosted a Mental Health Week April 24–28 filled with activities focused on wellness and positivity, and building a strong sense of community and belonging. A highlight was the mental health fair, with more than 12 organizations participating, including representatives from Attitudes in Reverse therapy dogs, Lead U teaching artists, and the Samaritan Center, as well as St. Rose groups such as the Knitting and Crocheting Club, and Art Club.

Through members’ faith in God, Hope Squad is distinctly different at St. Rose, according to Linda Groh, theology teacher and faculty advisor. She explained, “These students are living their faith. In this program – our Hope Squad – we have an advantage because we talk about how God can help them or support them. Jesus will always love you no matter what, even when you shut the door and turn your back on Him.  They always have their faith to rely on.”

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