Program to Target Youth Suicide in County

BERLIN – Two mothers who lost sons to suicide want to
equip local youth with a tool to get help in times of crisis by starting a
chapter of the Yellow ribbon suicide prevention program.

“We thought it’s about time we got something out there.
This program is definitely needed in Worcester County,” said Melanie Welton,
who lost her 16-year-old son Randy to suicide in October 2006.

“The basis of the program is a business card you hand out
and on the front it states, ‘this is your lifeline,” Welton said. “We ask the
kids to hold onto the card. If they need to use it they only have to hand it to
any adult.”

Youths in trouble, whether suicidal, victims of abuse, or
in any other life crisis, can hand the card to a trusted adult in lieu of
verbalizing a need for help. The card instructs the adult recipient to stay
with the youth, take the problem seriously, and get help. The card also
includes numbers for the life crisis center and the youth crisis hotline.

“If you’ve got an escape route, you’ll use it,” said
Kelley Green Welton’s co- founder. Green lost her 12-year-old son Darron to
suicide in May 1998.

One of the goals of the program, Green said, is to teach
kids that it is all right to ask for help. “They’ve not been taught to ask for
help,” she said.

Welton said one of the biggest obstacles is to get
troubled kids to talk about their problems. “It let’s them know it’s okay to
talk about this. It’s okay to ask for help,” she said.

The pair will launch the Delmarva chapter of the Yellow
Ribbon Program Monday night, at the Community Church at Ocean Pines. The event,
open to anyone interested, begins at 6:45 p.m.

Welton and Green are hoping to enlist the schools and
anyone who works with children and teens, as well as interested community
members. Not only do the youth need to be educated, but adults need to learn
how to help kids when they use the card.

“The program has already saved 2,500 lives in the last 10
years. It seems to work,” said Welton.

The program, founded in Colorado in 1994 after Dar and
Dale Emme’s son, 17-year-old Mike, committed suicide, has chapters in all 50
states and 47 countries. The program began after Mike’s friends passed out
pieces of paper at his memorial service reading, “It’s okay to ask for help,” a
phrase his parents had repeated over and over again to their son’s friends.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘oh my gosh, we need this.’
There are so many people who have it in their family,” said Welton. “I’m really
hoping to open the eyes of people and let them know this hits a lot of people.”

The community has laid out the welcome mat for the Yellow
Ribbon program already, she said.

“We fully embrace their work and are so happy they’re
doing what they’re doing,” said Robin Travers, acting director of mental health
services for the Worcester County health department.

Maryland has five chapters, with the closest in Talbot
County, where it has been very successful. The Talbot school system initiated
it in 2003, said Talbot County Board of Education behavioral specialist Robert
Schmidt.

“This is the best one for the kids because it’s by the
kids,” Schmidt said. “It really empowers the kids,” he said.

The program has saved 15 students in three years in Talbot
County.

“This is probably the most sensible thing I’ve seen,”
Green said. “If the child has the tool in their hand, and a simple tool at
that, then they can use it.”

Welton and Green hope to have the same sort of success as
Talbot County, which has seen the program spread beyond the schools and
throughout the community.

Green said one of their goals is to have the program
extend throughout Maryland’s lower eastern shore.

“If we can get it on the Lower Shore, that would be
super,” said Schmidt.

While the program locally will start with the meeting in
Ocean Pines on Monday, organizers are hoping to expand it to other areas. “We
need to get into places where more kids are, obviously, schools,” said Green.

The duo plans to target the cards and education on how to
use them starting with sixth graders, up through twelfth. Churches and local
businesses that attract youth, such as amusement parks and movie theaters, will
also be asked to participate.

Green and Welton are still looking for volunteers. While
the cards cost very little to print, the Yellow Ribbon program needs people
willing to undergo training to educate adults who work with kids, such as in
the schools.

Cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and janitors are as
important a resource for kids in crisis as teachers and counselors. 

“Kids trust folks who are auxiliary staff,” Green said.

Welton said how the message gets out is not as important
as the message itself. “Bottom line is we’re trying to keep all of our kids
safe and let them know this is not the answer,” Welton said. “This is a
permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

Because they have lived it, Welton and Green are well
versed in the tragedy of young suicide,

“We have a mission and a passion. We’ve lived it. We’ve
walked it, and we don’t want anyone else to have to,” Green said.

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