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Student led S.O.S. group receives recognition for local support

March 19, 2014 - By Leslie Batoha

Review Special Writer

The last couple years have been rough for Lake Orion. With 11 suicides in the past four years, the high school community agreed that there was one thing everyone needed to do: Talk.

With that idea in mind, students from the classes of 2012 and 2013 created a group designed to bring the community together. Students Offering Support, or SOS, "was what we came up with," said Taylor Fasseel, a 2013 graduate. "We had a bunch of meetings about how to help prevent suicide and our main idea was get the students involved."

Once the idea became a solid plan, it took off like a rocket. The group has grown from 120 members during the 2012-13 school year to almost 300 this year, and inspires school districts around the state. Last year, students involved with SOS attended a conference at Oakland University, where they were asked to present their program. "Going to the OU conference was a really big accomplishment because we were asked to join and present our program. It's come a long way from just being an idea discussed by friends," Fasseel said.

When it comes to creating the programs, those who are part of the SOS program formulate the ideas themselves. They often use personal experiences and topics that are geared towards helping others sustain themselves during tough times.

"(It takes) lots of research and time, believe it or not. You have to think about the well-being of all of the students in the school when you're building the message you want to convey," one of the main members Sierra Harbin said.

The group is working on their next topic, which is about being tough and "coming back to yourself after you've been through tough situations." It also involves "using grit to be resilient." "We're researching resilience and grit to dissect what they mean individually and what they work like together," Harbin said.

For most of the students involved in SOS, the experience has been positive. As a group designed to teach others how to speak out to those in need of help, it has taught many about the signs of depression and what they can do to prevent it.

"It has motivated me to speak out to help those who need support. Since I have not been personally affected by it, I have grown to be more aware of my friends and family in hopes that they will never feel the same way as others I have seen," junior Savanna Smirnow said.

All their hard work has paid off as well. This year the group has received several recognitions from organizations such as the Lake Orion school board and the Detroit Pistons. Most recently, they were recognized by the Oakland County Commissioners and "received a proclamation for bringing awareness about teen crises, breaking down myths about mental health issues and suicide and providing peer-to-peer support," Superintendent Marion Ginopolis mentioned in her latest blog post about students' successes.

Most importantly, this seems to be changing Lake Orion High School for the better. Many students involved in the program have commended it for being such a positive experience, and the rapid expansion has only raised their spirits for the future. With the group expanding their lessons to Lake Orion's middle schools, SOS expects even more growth in the forthcoming years.

"It has been amazing to see the growth of the group [from then to now]. I love that our school is mutually passionate about such an important topic, and seeing it become a widespread group has been so special," Smirnow said.

Even former members continue to be impressed by the program, Fasseel said. "SOS is making a difference, and I'm proud to have a small part in that."

When asked about her time in the group, she said "It [was] an interesting ride. The good moments are where you can see that we have made a noticeable difference such as students reporting that their friends have been depressed and that they are worried about them, but it has its frustrating moments as well. [It's tough] when we think we haven't made big enough strides or helped enough."

For now, SOS will continue to inspire. Teaching students to express themselves and their feelings is only part of what the group does as a whole, but they aspire to better their entire community.

"It's been a remarkable experience. I'm so proud to be a part of an organization that does nothing but help people. It's the only thing that's important to us. Even if we can help just one person, we know we've made a difference in someone's life and maybe even saved them from making a scary decision down the road," Harbin said.

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