Suicide prevention is deeply personal for the new club’s adviser
By Elise Marlett, Current Staff
Anticipating high student turnout, a new club has moved its first meeting to one of the largest rooms in the school.
Created in partnership with Life of Hope, a local suicide prevention agency, the Youth Impact Club is dedicated to promoting mental wellness in students at the West Bend High Schools and destigmatizing suicidal ideation. The first meeting of the YIC club is Wednesday after school in the roomy West study hall.
For adviser Jacqueline Schmoldt, a West social studies teacher, the club could not have come at a better time. Last March, Schmoldt’s son died by suicide. Zachary Schmoldt, then a West junior, had suffered from chronic pain for years. Instead of feeding into feelings of guilt, Schmoldt plans to honor Zak by pouring all of her efforts into the Youth Impact Club.
“I’m not going to beat myself up about it anymore because it’s not going to help anyone to do that,” Schmoldt said. “What I decided to do instead is channel my energy into the Youth Impact Club and help other kids and promote coping strategies because it did help him for a while. Just because we know a lot about the risks of suicide doesn’t mean we can always intervene in time, but we can at least try. You can’t do too much to help and that’s my philosophy in life, so you do as much as you can to help.”
Schmoldt says that the club plans to incorporate aspects of cognitive therapy and recreational therapy into each meeting to teach students how to take care of themselves.
“Maybe we’ll bring in a yoga instructor at some point or we’ll practice some of the concepts that I teach in psychology like cognitive therapy to help us how to practice habits of looking on the bright side,” Schmoldt said. “It’s also important to our mental well-being to have a lot of social connections, so the club is certainly going to provide that, so we will sometimes just have fun, recreational therapy I would call it.”
The YIC also hopes to make a difference outside of meetings by impacting the entire student body. The group plans to distribute Hope Notes to act as inspirational messages for anyone who may be struggling but is afraid to come forward. Club members will also work toward raising awareness of the suicide rate in teens and providing a welcoming environment for anyone who is struggling, with the goal that conversations regarding mental health will happen with no sense of shame.
“We’re trying to reach out to students and welcome them in so they feel like they belong somewhere,” Schmoldt said. “We’ll also spread information about things that are going on and things that we should know about suicide prevention. We want to make people aware of the statistics, where you can get help. We want to make it a more talk-able topic, both suicide itself and the therapy that goes with that.”
West assistant principal Patrick O’Connor is thrilled that Life of Hope has partnered with WBHS. He says that any kind of cooperation with the local community is something to be celebrated.
“Let’s get out there, let’s form partnerships and let’s all work together,” O’Connor said. “We have such a great community that is very supportive of everything that we do.”
“We’re trying to reach out to students and welcome them in so they feel like they belong somewhere.”
– Jacqueline Schmoldt, Youth Impact Club adviser
For club president Lily Mottet and vice president Ally Quiroz, both West seniors, the YIC has been a long time coming. They have advocated for a mental wellness club for three years.
“I have definitely seen people struggle with mental health issues and different ideations and I would like to provide a place where people can feel comfortable and get help and just learn to be okay mentally,” Quiroz said. “Not only that but I like to help others.”
Both Mottet and Quiroz are certified for QPR, which stands for Question Persuade Refer. Their training, provided by Life of Hope, taught them how to navigate a crisis conversation with a suicidal individual. Currently the core members of the YIC, along with the main advisers, are QPR certified.
Schmoldt is encouraging all members to become certified and would someday like to find a way to tag these individuals, perhaps with a pin for their backpack.
“What we’re hoping to eventually do is have some sort of symbol attached to their backpack that other students can recognize, ‘this is someone who has the QPR training, someone who’s in the Youth Impact Club, someone I can approach and talk to,’” Schmoldt said.
O’Connor believes that an important aspect of any club is the teacher who leads it. He thinks that because this club will be advised by Schmoldt, it will naturally be popular.
“I think sometimes kids go just because they like the staff that run it and I think that’s fantastic that we have such a strong staff that students are flocking to whatever they do,” O’Connor said. “I think it speaks to the relationships that staff form with students, but the fact that they are supporting Mrs. Schmoldt in this venture is great.”
For those who are hesitant about the club, Quiroz says that no matter your situation, there is always someone there for you. She says that if all you need is a friend to listen, she would love to go out to coffee to get to know you.
“You don’t have to go through it alone,” Quiroz said. “You can come talk to one of us who are a part of the YIC club and we can help talk you through or you can talk to a counselor, but it is just so much easier to go to someone. There are people who are trained and kind and loving and ready to talk to you and not in a big group if you don’t feel comfortable, just one-on-one.”
(Top image: Youth Impact Club members Gavin Quiroz, Ally Quiroz, Lauren Garbisch, Ava Schuett and Lily Mottet advertise the new club Aug. 27 during Freshman Open House. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Schmoldt.)