Hedgesville High School students created posters to remind their peers of their sources of strength.
Brian O’Neill Jr. Foundation Brings Program to Local Schools
Lee O’Neill is on a mission to bring best practices for suicide prevention to Eastern Panhandle schools. Starting two years ago with Musselman High, O’Neill now provides the program — developed by nationwide organization Sources of Strength — to all four high schools in Berkeley County.
In early February, O’Neill was at Hedgesville High leading a workshop for two dozen or so students. It’s not so much a training session as it is an opportunity to encourage the kids to build the program. “We meet two times a month, to help the kids get confident in their abilities,” says O’Neill. “We give them ideas and language they can use in the school and out in the community. What we’re working on today is our first campaign at Hedgesville, to identify trusted adults — not just those teachers and staff who are willing to help, but specific individuals who are identified by other students as being welcoming and understanding.”
“It’s part of identifying the multiple sources of support that a child can go to,” O’Neill continued. “These posters (image above) the kids are making today highlight the ‘Sources of Strength’ wheel — different avenues for kids to build positive connections.” She points out that building emotional strength and resilience doesn’t just reduce suicide, it reduces substance abuse, sexual abuse, and bullying.
For O’Neill, the mission to bring this program into the local schools is personal. She lost her own son Brian at age 23 to suicide. Her response was to launch the foundation bearing his name and become a certified Sources of Strength trainer. Now in its third year, the Brian O’Neill Jr. Foundation has trained more than 130 students as peer advisors and 40 adults as mentors in Berkeley County Schools. O’Neill’s goal next year is to continue the program in Berkeley County schools and also have the program adopted by the Jefferson and Morgan County school systems.
On May 14, the foundation will hold a Stronger With Each Step 5K Run in Shepherdstown to raise funds for these programs. Registration information will be posted on BrianOneillJrFoundation.org and Facebook @BrianOneillJrFoundation. More information about Sources of Strength at SourcesOfStrength.org. If you know of someone who needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or Crisis Text Line 471471.By Steve Pearson