At a recent assembly at Penn Manor High School, you could hear a pin drop as teens listened to presentations about a new student group established with grants from Penn Manor Education Foundation.
Called Aevidum, the group seeks to raise awareness among teens about depression and suicide and help students avoid the desperate feelings that can lead to suicide.
At the assembly, Emily Keller of Cocalico High School spoke publicly for the first time about the pain of losing her brother, Kyle Hainley, to suicide in 2010. Emily is a member of the Cocalico chapter of Aevidum, which was started by Joe Vulopas, a Cocalico teacher, after a suicide at his school.
“Suicide is almost 100 percent preventable,” Vulopas told the crowd, urging the students to pool their interests, creativity and talents to support each other and create a culture where mental wellness is embraced and students feel supported by the theme of “I’ve got your back.”
Penn Manor High School students have certainly risen to the challenge. More than 200 signed up for Aevidum, which was established with two Penn Manor Education Foundation Venture Grants. Throughout the year, students will participate in Aevidum activities in the arts, athletics, public relations and service.
Members already have welcomed high school freshmen to orientation sessions and sold rubber bracelets in memory of Greg Frey, the PMHS junior who died unexpectedly in September.
Members also sent sympathy cards to Greg’s family members and to the family of a Penn Manor student whose father died. Cards also were sent to Cocalico teachers and students who recently lost a classmate.
In the coming weeks, students will be encouraged to take the “Aevidum pledge” in the cafeteria to save lives and be positive members of the school community.
Other activities will include assisting with PMEF’s Shoot for Education fundraiser and participating in walks to benefit the Lancaster Suicide Prevention Coalition. More activities will be added as the year progresses, all on the theme of students supporting one another.
PMHS teacher Maria Vita, who is adviser to the group along with school counselor Kim Marsh, said she is impressed with how much support Aevidum members have shown for their fellow students.
“Students are not only eager to support their peers, but they are also interested in talking about mental health. One student mentioned that she struggled in her past and wants to reach out to elementary school students in our district to support them early on,” Maria said.
“We are just amazed and inspired by the openness and enthusiasm students have shown!”