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Henry Clay’s Sources of Strength Club Profiled by Lexington Herald Leader

‘Sources of Strength.’ Henry Clay High students spread hope in emotional support group

Lexington Herald Leader

Valerie Honeycutt Spears

December 24, 2019

Henry Clay students form first of its kind support group in any Lexington school

Finals week was approaching at Lexington’s Henry Clay High School recently and students said the stress level was high.

But kids at Henry Clay, the first high school in Lexington to try a student-driven emotional support program called Sources of Strength, had created a “Finals Frenzy” night as one of the organization’s first events of the year.

Designed to help students get in the right frame of mind before finals, it included yoga, meditation, and activities such as coloring and making stress balls.

“About 60 students showed up on a rainy, Friday night,” said principal Paul Little.

Peer leaders in Sources of Strength were back at it the next week when finals started, standing at school entrances to give their fellow students peppermint treats because peppermints are supposed to lower stress levels. In another event in the cafeteria this year, students were asked to identify people who they considered to be trusted adult mentors in the building, and to write down and display their names.

Nationally, Sources of Strength is known as a suicide prevention program. At Henry Clay it’s used to provide students with overall emotional support. The Instagram account is HCHSSOS.

Little gave the green light for Sources of Strength after he was approached by school counselor Rachael Howard who heard about it at a conference. As of mid-December, 13 adult advisors and 50 student peer mentors had received training from state officials.

Students in Sources of Strength aren’t expected to act as therapists or mental health specialists. Teacher Misty Back, an adult advisor for the group, said “We’re not expecting these kids to take care of everyone’s problems. We’re expecting them to guide that person to an adult in the building that could help them.”

As part of the training, student leaders go through exercises to see if they can detect changes in their peers.

“Most of the time it’s our friends and our peers that notice” problems first, said senior Wes Payne, who likes the program because it is student-driven.

Even though he’s a student leader in Sources of Strength and works with others, junior Whitney Page said he’s also been helped by the group.

“This semester has been pretty rough on me with finals coming up,” said Whitney, “I’ve been pretty stressed. I work a lot so I’m up late, I’m tired.”

He said that its helped that junior Lizzie Faulconer, another student leader in Sources of Strength, “had my back.”

“If I’m ever feeling down... I can go to somebody. They are going to be there for me,” Page said. “That embodies what we are about.”

Back, the teacher leader, said one student not in the group approached her recently about a friend who was having a problem, saying, “Can you help my friend?” That student with the problem was connected to a school counselor.

“I’m very grateful and very inspired,” said Shania Sanchez-Alvarado, a junior. ”A lot of my friends have definitely reached out” as Sources of Strength began this year.

Ten percent of the students at Henry Clay could eventually be student leaders so that every teen in the building would have a fellow student to go to.

Schools that have a Sources of Strength group have seen a reduction in substance abuse, violence and suicides, Howard said. Several other schools in Kentucky have Sources of Strength groups.

Jiya Alcorn, a junior, said students are nominated by teachers to be in the program. Peer leaders encourage students to have healthy activities and positive friends.

Alcorn said the group next plans to put post-it notes with encouraging messages such as, “You are amazing” on bathroom mirrors or walls at the school.

Nautica Jones, a senior, said she thinks students in Sources of Strength are the “backbone” of the school, the group that puts a good word in other students’ ear to help them be stress free.

“One of our main objectives is connection,” said Alena Woodson, a senior.

“We needed to implement a group that matches the diversity of Henry Clay. Everybody at Henry Clay can find somebody within Sources of Strength... to talk to ...whether you have a big or small problem going on,” said Alena.

Alena said she recently saw a girl crying in the bathroom who confided she was stressed out about finals and other things going on in her life. Alena talked to the girl for 10 minutes until the girl calmed down.

“That’s what we are here for,” Alena said. “We are here to ask you if you are OK” and then lead students to a trusted adult.