LIMA — The issues of mental health and teen suicide are so important to Bath High School junior Emily Vandemark that she started a Gatekeepers club at her school to help bring awareness to the topics.
Vandemark, 16, is one of 12 Jefferson Awards recipients, with one person who will advance to Washington D.C. following Tuesday night’s celebration.
She said she knew a former classmate who took their life last year. That sparked her to start a Gatekeeper group at her high school to help others with their mental health needs.
“I think the topic of suicide is getting to be a big problem at not only our school but schools around us. People don’t realize the effects of it,” Vandemark said.
Vandemark and her mother, Missy, worked together to get ahold of the Partnership For Violence Free Families programs (now known as Prevention, Awareness, Support and Services), who created the club in other schools.
“We are a suicide and mental health awareness group whose mission is to spread awareness about suicide prevention and mental health,” Vandemark said. The club meets every other Monday and has 30 members, freshmen through seniors.
The club’s first event was last summer, when a fundraiser was organized in four weeks to raise awareness about the Gatekeepers club and spread suicide awareness to the community.
There was a 5K race with more than 80 participants and more than 120 T-shirts sold.
During Christmas, the group held a fundraiser where students could buy candy canes and send positive messages to others in the school. Every student in the school received a positive message.
Her hope is eventually to bring the Gatekeepers club to the middle-school level. She hopes high school students know the club is there if they need to talk and are struggling and if they want to help their peers.
“We want them to know they are not alone,” Vandemark said. The club is planning a Yellow Ribbon Week at the end of March, where there will be themes centered around mental health and teen suicide with activities to bring awareness to the topics. Those who participate will get a keychain or pen with the Suicide “Hope Line” on it.
The club promotes the National Suicide Hope Line, 1-800-273-8255.
Matthew Gillett, Bath High School teacher, nominated Vandemark for the award and is a sponsor for the Gatekeepers Club. He met her his first year of teaching CPR and First Aid, and she also was his student for exercise science class her sophomore year.
“She deserves the award because she was not content on ignoring a very important topic in not only this community, but in all communities,” Gillett said. “With a topic this big and touchy people tend to shy away from taking the lead on it, or staying quite until the situation passes over.”
He said Vandemark realizes no one should have to deal with something like suicide on their own. He added that she took it upon herself to find an organization that was willing to come to the school to help teach students and staff about mental health.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.