Suicide awareness and prevention drew “The Bachelor” Ben Higgins to Edgewood Middle School Friday morning for a student group’s “Game Changers” project.
Game Changers is a day-long event that features presentations by students on issues in society that bother them – ranging from bullying to suicide and racism, among many other topics. Students present their issue and a plan to tackle it to a “board of investors” who decide whether to “invest” in the students’ plans or decline, similar to the television show “Shark Tank.” The investors also provide constructive feedback to the students, but do not actually invest in the projects.
Before the suicide prevention presentation, teacher Veronica Helser explained, “This project was a humanitarian project for the honor students. We spent quite a bit of time extensively talking about the power to be a game changer in your society, and that one person can have a big idea that can make a difference in the lives of many.”
Eighth-graders Skylar Ashcraft, Morgan Nichols, Cora Ransbottom and Abby Taylor decided to research and present on suicide. Their presentation was titled “You Matter.”
“They thought that was an issue that we’re really facing, it’s increasing,” Helser said.
Ashcraft, whose father is serving in Afghanistan and watched their presentation on Skype, said she wanted to address suicide because, “I have a personal story because my sister actually took her own life, so that was really important to me.”
The girls said there’s been a lot of suicides and suicide attempts in the community, which was another reason they wanted to tackle the issue.
The girls asked Helser if they could contact Higgins to talk on the issue. Helser said they contacted Higgins on their own and he agreed to come and be a part of their presentation as their “final plea” to the board of investors.
Taylor said it was her idea to contact Higgins, but Ashcraft sent him the email inviting him to speak as part of their presentation, which was given Friday before the entire Edgewood student body. They were all surprised when he agreed to do it, they said.
“It worked out perfectly,” said Higgins, who attended Edgewood and graduated from Warsaw Community High School. “I was just skimming through my email a couple of weeks ago and I saw an email with the title ‘Edgewood.’ … It was from Skylar, who is a part of the group here. She just requested I come and speak to the students, and she also shared in that email what they’re struggling with in schools now: the depression and the burdens and the anxiety.”
It so happened that he was already scheduled to be in Warsaw for a board meeting for Humanity & Hope United. The group was born in 2010 to help people overcome challenges and grow to become their best selves, according to humanityandhope.org.
“So everything aligned, and for me, when something like that happens, I need to go do this, I want to go do this. … If I can say one thing today that allows somebody in this audience, one of these kids, to feel a little bit more empowered, a little bit better about themselves, than it’s worth it. If they thought I could do that and they asked me to do that, then I want to do that,” Higgins said.
Higgins said he unfortunately had a good friend whose best friend committed suicide this week.
“So I called him and said, ‘Hey, can we talk? Can I get some information from you?’ And, honestly, there isn’t a lot of information out there on how to prevent suicide. So my goal today is to be as vulnerable and as honest as I can be about my story,” Higgins said.
Though he hasn’t had suicidal thoughts, he said, he has felt depression, burdens and anxiety.
“I want to hopefully allow everyone in here to feel a little less closer to the chest about those topics. So release those taboos and to speak openly about when they’re struggling. But it was a really hard thing to prepare for. I don’t know if I’ll have anything that will change anything, I just want them to know they’re not alone,” Higgins, 28, said.
During his talk, Higgins highlighted the first time he got dumped by a girl while a student at Edgewood. He also encouraged the students to talk to someone if they’re feeling depressed, and that they could email him anytime to talk.
With their presentation, Nichols said, “We just want everyone to realize that their actions and words do affect the way people feel and the way they act. So we just hope that it will help them realize it’s a big problem and we want it to stop.”
Their plan to bring awareness to the topic of suicide was to have a 5K on June 9 in Winona Lake Park. They estimated the total cost for the 5K was $2,325.38. The investors suggested they could get most of their costs donated to them.
All five investors said they would invest in it, calling it “heartfelt” and “well put together.”
“I was really proud of their assertiveness, but also just their passion and their heart,” Helser said.
Helser thanked Sym Financial for sponsoring the Game Changers project every year by coming in and giving feedback as they are “real life investors.”