Strength from the source

Line of Students

Since 2018, teens in Bayfield have been able to tap into those resources through a program known as Sources of Strength, a “youth mental health promotion and suicide prevention program designed to harness the power of peer social networks to create healthy norms and culture, ultimately preventing suicide, violence, bullying, and substance misuse,” according to the program’s website.

Bayfield High School Counselor Jennifer Leithauser reported that the program was adopted here in the spring of 2018 when the district received funding from the Colorado Attorney General and the Office of Suicide Prevention to bring the program into the school.

Sources of Strength is intended to prevent adverse outcomes for young people by increasing wellbeing, help-seeking, resiliency, healthy coping, and belonging. Students are introduced to eight pillars — Sources of Strength — that provide support or protection, and taught to rely on those sources when times get hard.

The eight pillars, or sources, are laid out on a color wheel that serves as a logo for the program — Family Support (Orange), Positive Friends (Yellow), Mentors (Green), Healthy Activities (Blue), Generosity (Gray), Spirituality (Purple), Physical Health (Lt. Blue), Mental Health (Red).

After implementation, the program’s advisors discovered that those sources proved valuable for everybody in the building, not just the students.

“We first started the program to address the growing mental health needs of students at BHS, but we quickly realized that it works best as a support program for everyone within our school, both students and staff,” Leithauser said.

One of the five core values of the Sources of Strength program calls on participants to “work the wheel” in the pursuit of wellness, kindness and strength. A group of peer leaders at BHS helps maintain that focus by meeting every Thursday during the school’s weekly enrichment period to plan campaigns that illuminate different strengths for their school community.

“It’s getting people to tap into their sources, and show how they can use the sources in their everyday life to help you,” Meeghan Burrows said. “We do campaigns that will spotlight on a certain source of strength.”

The peer leaders also practice what they preach on an individual level, and part of their weekly meeting involves a “sharing circle” where they talk about their own week, rank it from 1 to 5, and discuss which sources they used to cope with the various challenges they face.

“We are normalizing and saying it is okay to feel the way you feel. We understand, and you are not going through that alone,” Terene Foutz reported. The PE teacher and volleyball/track coach at BHS works with Leithauser as a mentor and advisor for the peer leader group.

“Many schools across the country are trying to build those connections where kids feel safer in talking about struggle, where kids feel more confident in discussing things that are hard,” Foutz continued. “A lot of kids go through things, and there is always a way (to find help).”

That connects with another core value of the program, which encourages people to “embrace the journey” and acknowledge that life is a process of continuous learning and growth.

And it isn’t always easy.

“Every single human being — the adults in this building, the kids in this building — we are not getting through life without something hard happening. Whether we are to the point of thinking about suicide or not, everybody experiences hard things. These sources of strength are what we want people to use to get through those hard times - any hard times. These sources of strength are going to get people through when life gets hard,” Leithauser reasoned.

That belief is something the peer leader group leans into, and their position in the program calls on them to model an appropriate response to challenges teens face.

“You connect with other people and the source itself to help you out,” Carter Connon confirmed.

“I actually use it every weekend - using family support with my step-siblings because they do annoy me a lot,” Alex Alsum smiled. “I use family support during that, generosity whenever I can, spirituality to just relax myself and think of positive things all the time.”

Positivity is a big part of Sources of Strength, and yet another core value of the program calls on individuals to “bring the joy.”

“The focus is always positive. The focus of Sources of Strength is on hope, help and strength, so anytime we can make it fun and make it engaging for people to interact with these strengths the better. If they’re having a good time doing it, they’re going to do it again,” Leithauser reasoned.

Dropping Cans

That was the thinking behind a Give n' Glow event held at the school in February that highlighted generosity. The celebration was held during enrichment, and students who attended were asked to bring at least one non-perishable food item to donate to Pine River Shares as their entry fee. The event featured glow games and music, but a raffle may have been the biggest draw…and some students really poured on the generosity in recognition of the fact that the more food items they brought, the more raffle tickets they got.

“Generosity is a source of strength because it benefits both the receiver and the giver, and can help our students build their sense of community and purpose,” said Dean of Students Alex Forsthoff, who was on hand to help collect the offerings and distribute the rewards.

And the rewards were plentiful. To help get the students excited, the raffle offered some awesome prizes — including both Xbox and PS5 controllers, new backpacks, a clip-on bluetooth speaker, a glow light display machine, remote control bedroom curtain lights and tumbler cups with straws. Combined with a natural desire to break up the gloom of February, those prizes helped make the Give n’ Glow the most well attended Sources of Strength event held at BHS, according to Forsthoff.

“It gives to the community, and it brings the students of the school together,” Burrows said after the event.

It also helped raise awareness of the Sources of Strength program itself, making it more likely that children — and adults — will make connections to the people and coping skills that help them in time of trouble.

“We’re not only trying to make connections in our high school, but district-wide, all Bayfield kids,” Foutz said.

The peer leaders are vitally important in this mission because their participation in the program makes them recognizable to other students, and that allows them to act as a bridge between kids who are struggling and the people who can help them.

“These guys are not set up to be peer counselors or peer therapists,” Leithauser observed. “The idea is that they will connect them with adults who can help them get through the struggles they are going through.”

“We make sure people have nice people to go to,” Alsum confirmed.

These connections, combined with the peer leaders’ mission to enhance the protective factors (sources of strength) through example, produce what the Sources of Strength website describes as “a strength-based and upstream approach to mental health promotion and prevention of adverse outcomes like suicide, violence, bullying, and substance misuse.”

It’s an approach that has made believers out of students and staff alike at Bayfield High School.

“It’s about solving problems upriver before they go downstream to bigger and more difficult challenges,” Foutz stated.

“Let’s get them out of the river, and give them the tools they need to not be in the river,” Leithauser agreed.

Dropping Cans