A dozen or so students were writing uplifting messages to hang up in their schools in early May.
After spring break the school started a peer-to-peer suicide prevention and intervention group called HOPE Squad, the first in Oregon but part of a nationwide network.
“Hold on pain ends” read one message, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible” read another. The messages were written on a red and white circle with the intent to make someone’s day better at Phoenix Charter School.
“It helps people who lose hope in living and don’t know how to be happy and need help,” sophomore Sadie Crook said. “Our job is to help them get to the people who can help them.”
Students are trained using the QPR (question, persuade, refer) method — when they see a fellow student in need they ask if the student is thinking about self harm or suicide, they persuade the student to seek help, and refer the problem to a counselor or other adult.
Students received training in the warning signs of were taught how to provide friendship and seek help.
“Instead of trying not to hit the hard question, it’s easier to put on a blank face,” junior Dezirae Quiroz said about asking people whether they’re thinking about self harm or suicide.
Hope Squad Adviser Gabrielle Webster said, “One of the things we learn is that you can’t put the thought of suicide in someone’s head. All the research shows that the thought is already there.”
Group members practiced their listening skills and talking points through skits.
While no students have committed suicide at the school in the past 18 years, there have been numerous attempts including some that ended with hospitalization.
Student also experience suicide in their personal lives, when family members or friends lost the will to live.
“My dad committed suicide,” Quiroz said. “It’s a big part of my life and it’s always on my mind.”
HOPE squad members were selected by their peers to be in the class.
“You have to be in the right frame of mind to help,” Webster said. “It can be stressful.”
Students who refer a peer to a counselor, also get debriefed on the situation to make sure they are doing alright after dealing with a stressful situation.
At least seven different students have sought help since the program’s inception six weeks ago.
“Cow Creek Welness approached us about the program,” Hope Squad Adviser Jordan Humphreys said. “They did research on QPR, supported us financially and helped us get an adviser who trained us and helped us get things ready.”
The school is hosting an unveiling of the program at 7 p.m. May 29 in the multi-purpose room at Phoenix Charter School. The event is free to attend, but people can register at http://phoenixhopesquad.eventbrite.com.
HOPE Squad founder Greg Hudnall will present the program to the community. Hudnall has championed suicide prevention in school for more than 20 years.
Be kind, and always give gifts that you would like to have yourself.
Susan Ziebarth of Roseburg said that’s the best advice she recalls her mother giving her. Her mother, Joe Johnson, passed away 50 years ago at the age of 38. But Ziebarth remembered the advice, used it and taught it to her own children.
In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, the News-Review asked readers to tell us the best advice their mothers ever gave them. Be kind to others easily topped the list. Other bits of wisdom included exhortations to follow Christian moral teachings, to enjoy life and to carry on regardless of how tough life gets.
Ziebarth recalled being very poor as a 12-year-old girl in Glendale, and said welfare organizations back then used to give them a little box of items. One time, her box had a perfume bottle shaped like a little bear.
“I really liked that bear. I thought that was pretty cute,” she said. But the family had friends who were worse off than they were, and Mom said each of her kids should take one gift out of the box and give it to one of the needier kids.
“Well, I did not want to give that bear up, but that’s what I gave because that’s the one I would choose for myself,” Ziebarth said.
Mothers, she said, are pretty important.
“We grew up without a whole lot, except we never went hungry, never went without love, and you can’t do better than having a mom that loves you,” she said.
Nancy Yates of Roseburg grew up in Grants Pass and said her mother Eleanor Patterson taught her to be kind to others and to enjoy life. She said her mother used to love traveling, especially to Florida, camping and shopping, especially for antique furniture.
“We could spend hours in the stores, let me tell you. And she used to like to go to garage sales and I enjoy that too,” Yates said.
Bonnie Wageman of Roseburg said her mother Mildred Bassett taught her to always be honest and kind to others. Wageman grew up in Los Angeles and moved to Douglas County 50 years ago.
Bassett had been raised in a bad situation and ended up in a Catholic girls high school. She married right out of high school and had three kids.
“She was quite the individual. She was pretty much a loner, loved to read,” Wageman said. Still, she had a sweet heart, and was always thinking about others, she said.
Wageman said she’s put her mom’s advice to use by being good to her friends.
“A lot of reward, many rewards from being a good friend and kind to others. Things come back to you,” Wageman said.
Not that it’s always easy.
“You run into different circumstances and different people and you just kind of have to roll with the punches. That’s life I guess. Nothing’s ever perfect,” she said.
Jean Van Cleave lives near Sutherlin. She said her mother Mildred Cocks gave her a talking-to when she was young.
“She says, ‘I’m teaching you this now because when you get to be a teenager you will know it all.’ She just told me that well, just be a good girl. Behave myself and don’t mess around,” Van Cleave said. In other words, don’t be promiscuous.
Van Cleave said her parents learned to be Christians after moving to Oregon when she was 10. It started with Van Cleave and her brother going to hear a Missionary Baptist preacher in Wilbur. Her brother convinced their parents to go and hear the man preach. After that, they converted.
Van Cleave, who just turned 80, said she wishes more people in the younger generations had received that advice.
“We got a little better training than what they’re getting nowadays,” she said.
Van Cleave married at 16, and will celebrate her 64th wedding anniversary this month. Christian morals helped her there, too, she said.
“We didn’t run down and get a divorce every time we had a fight. That was mainly it. We waited until we got over it, made up,” she said.
John Uselton of Riddle said his mother Dorothy Uselton’s best advice was to stay out of trouble. He said he’s followed that advice pretty well.
He was involved in sports at school in Riddle, then went on to Oregon Tech (now Oregon Institute of Technology) to study accounting and got a good job for Pacific Gas and Electric. He said he didn’t miss anything by staying out of trouble.
It’s a lesson he also taught his kids.
“They turned out pretty good, so I think I did ‘em halfway decent,” he said.
A bill tightening school vaccination requirements is making progress in the state legislature.
House Bill 3063 would remove parents’ ability to use philosophical or religious exemptions to decline or slow the administration of required vaccinations for their children who attend public and private school.
The bill, which passed the House 35-25 on Monday, would make Oregon the fourth state in the country to pass such legislation. Oregon has a nation-leading 7.5% of 2-year-olds who have at least one non-medical exemption.
Hundreds of families in Douglas County would be affected by the bill. In order to attend class or any school-related events, kids would have to be fully immunized by the Aug. 1, 2020 deadline. Parents claiming philosophical exemptions have said they might homeschool their children rather than immunize them, but it’s unclear how the bill could affect enrollment numbers.
The bill has become one of the most contentious pieces of legislation this session.
Supporters of the bill say the regulations are necessary to protect young children and people with compromised immune systems from contracting preventable diseases.
Public health officials are worried a series of measles outbreaks across the country are a sign previously eliminated diseases will regain footholds in communities with declining immunization rates. There have been more than 700 confirmed cases of measles in 2019, including 14 in Oregon — one outbreak in Clark County, Washington led to 73 confirmed cases.
Vocal opponents say the bill is an infringement on parents’ freedom to choose what medical treatments their children receive. Legislators who oppose the bill have downplayed the severity of recent measles outbreaks.
This year, 832 students in Douglas County schools have non-medical exemptions for at least one vaccine, according to Oregon Health Authority data. That’s 5.7% of all students. Almost half of those students have non-medical exemptions for all required vaccines.
The number of students with at least one non-medical exemption increased by 89 since last year, and students with non-medical exemptions for all vaccines increased by 32.
All school districts in the county, except the Riddle School District, which has 392 students, are less than 95% fully-vaccinated. Students in Riddle are 95.4% fully-vaccinated.
Douglas County Public Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer said the goal is to have immunization rates as close to 100% as possible. He said each disease has a different threshold for herd immunity — immunization rates high enough that outbreaks are unlikely to spread. Rates must be 95% for measles, for example.
Some of the lowest vaccination rates in the county were in religiously-affiliated schools. The immunization rate for the seven religious schools in the county is 87.1%, the second-lowest in the county when compared to school districts.
Camas Valley Charter School currently has the lowest rate in the county, but the school’s rate is skewed by 19 students without exemptions that are on schedule to be fully-vaccinated.
Twenty-five of the 140 students at the Geneva Academy — a private, Christian school in Roseburg — have at least one non-medical exemption for vaccinations. Seventeen of those students don’t have any required vaccinations.
Headmaster Brian Turner said if the bill passes, it would substantially affect the 25 students’ families who have non-medical exemptions.
“It’s unclear to us at this point how many families might decide to not re-enroll,” Turner said. “There could be could be a significant number of families, but we don’t know yet at this point.”
The school hasn’t taken a position on the bill like it has in the past for legislation addressing other contentious issues such as common core or transgender bathroom requirements. But on Tuesday, Turner sent parents an email describing how the bill would affect the school, asking them to pray and suggesting they contact local state representatives if the issue is important to them.
“Whether you are engaged or indifferent to the issue, it will have an impact on private Christian schools, including ours,” Turner said in the email. “I don’t know how many families might choose to homeschool to avoid one or more vaccinations, but even just a small part of that group leaving would be a sad loss for the school, and it might be a hard adjustment for those families, too.
“Even if you think vaccinations are critical public health necessities, as I do, it is important that parental rights are guarded. There is no telling what ‘public health necessities’ will be next: gun confiscation, elimination of homeschooling or religious instruction, forced support of causes or agendas abhorrent to God,” Turner said.
He said the bill is a “knee-jerk reaction” to recent measles outbreaks and it lacks the nuance that comes from a more balanced legislature — Democrats have supermajorities in both legislative chambers.
Turner added many families at the school with non-medical exemptions obtained them not because they’re philosophically-opposed to vaccinations, but because they had concerns about the impact they would have on their child’s health or pre-existing condition.
Nine Douglas County students received medical exemptions for vaccines this year.
Dannenhoffer said there are very few medical conditions — allergies to vaccine components or immunodeficiency conditions, for example — that warrant medical exemptions.
“The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does outline what the reasons for exemptions are, and thankfully they’re all rare,” Dannenhoffer said.
He said he wishes legislators didn’t have to require immunizations.
“The far more preferable thing would be for people to carefully look at the science, and agree on the science, and then do the right thing,” Dannenhoffer said. “It does not appear in our society that that’s really a possibility at this point. If people really carefully looked at the science, they would see that indeed measles vaccination is very safe, it’s very effective, it’s not associated with things like autism.”
Gov. Kate Brown has said she will sign the bill when it gets to her desk, but when exactly that will happen is unclear. Senate Republicans began boycotting the session on Tuesday, leaving the capitol and preventing the 20-member quorum needed to conduct business. HB 3063 was on a list of controversial bills Republicans are demanding Democrats kill in order to continue the session.