City leaders, students partner for suicide prevention walk
Riverton High School’s suicide prevention group, the Hope Squad, releases balloons on the northeast corner of Redwood Road and 12600 South in a ceremony to raise awareness of teen suicide. (McKara Warr/Riverton Hope Squad)
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Riverton City officials and Riverton High School leaders promoted suicide awareness and prevention during a 1-mile community walk in below-freezing weather conditions.
“I think in a way it is a symbol,” said Linda Tranter, a counselor at RHS said about the walk on Jan. 28. “Grief is pretty tough, and as uncomfortable as we are (during the walk), it makes us think of the things these teens have gone through, and we try to really empathize with their situations.”
The high school’s suicide prevention group Tranter advises, called the Hope Squad, has sponsored a similar walk each year for the past 11 years. The walk is a visible sign to commemorate students and community members who have committed suicide and demonstrate awareness of suicide. Because of the walk, those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts may realize there are people who care about their feelings, Tranter said.
In fall 2016, when suicidal thought reports among teens in the city were on the rise, Riverton Mayor Bill Applegarth said city leaders and the Hope Squad decided to partner in “a way that has never been done before.” The city advertised the Hope Walk on its website and by attaching Hope Squad banners to city light fixtures and started an initiative to train residents in QPR, a technique used to assist people who are contemplating suicide. The walk became a joint effort between city officials and the Hope Squad.
About 80 participants met at Riverton High school where they were given bright yellow hats and scarves, provided by city leaders. The loud color was meant to represent hope and life and attract attention by passers-by, according to Tranter. Yellow cards were also handed out, and walkers could write a short tribute to someone in their life who had committed suicide and dedicate the walk to them.
Broc Stowe, a 16-year-old sophomore in Riverton’s Hope Squad, said the most meaningful part of the morning occurred before the crowd left the high school.
“I loved the moment of silence we had,” Stowe said. “You could really feel the love and compassion that was being felt for all of those people who had committed suicide. I’d never felt something like that before.”
Following the moment of silence, participants followed the RHS Silverwolves mascots down the sidewalk of 2700 West to 12600 South. With a police escort, the group made its way to what RHS students call the “Spirit Corner”—the grassy area on the northeast corner of Redwood Road.
The mayor gave a few remarks at the conclusion of the walk, and Hope Squad members released yellow balloons in the area. Because of the cold, people didn’t stick around long after the walk. Some people were bussed back to the high school. Others chose to walk back.
“I was the photographer and got to take pictures as this was going on,” said 16-year-old sophomore McKara Warr. “It was cool to see everyone having a fun time. Even though we were talking about a very serious and sad concept, you could tell people were happy to be showing their support and that they care.”
Warr said she also hoped the event showed the public who the Hope Squad members are. Hope Squad members are nominated by their peers as someone who is a good listener and easy to talk to. Struggling students are encouraged to talk to these peers because they are trained in identifying signs of suicide and referring students to adults who can help the situation.
Those who are feeling depressed or suicidal have places to turn to for help. Teens can speak with a member of Hope Squad, and all community members can call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 if they or someone they know is considering suicide.