NEW ALBANY — Years ago, a student at Community Montessori took his own life.
He would have been part of the charter school's first graduating class.
The loss was felt hard. Out of that grief, a new student-led club, ASSIST was formed, with the goal of preventing another tragedy from happening again.
"Mental heath is as essential as physical health and we're trying to remove that stigma," said Hannegan Roseberry, club sponsor and teacher at the school. "We want to make, 'I'm going to see my therapist today,' as normal sounding as 'I have an allergy shot today.'"
Sophomore Rowan Meier has been in the club since 7th grade.
"It's actually making a difference at this school and it's improving our environment," Meier said.
The group kicked off the school year this past week with a fundraiser pizza party including a guest speaker, teacher Kyle Herman, who was the first sponsor of ASSIST. Herman told the story of the student who inspired it all.
"I want to make sure they understand why we do what we do," Herman said. "... and to make sure someone in crisis can get help."
Not only are students taught how to get help, but help is coming to the school, via the new Courage Cabin — a place inside the school where students can get therapy provided by Personal Counseling Services. Roseberry said that takes away the barrier of trying to get an appointment after school hours and dealing with finding transportation to get to therapy appointments.
ASSIST also hosts events where members teach students about various coping mechanisms, such as doing yoga, coloring, napping or even screaming into a pillow.
"There's a lot that's going on from dealing with homework, grades, sometimes parents, schedules, work ... it's challenging and extremely stressful," Meier said. "We try to have outlets for that."
There is also a way for students to anonymously contact the group to talk through issues that person is facing.
"We would just be able to be there for them and listen to what they have to say," said ASSIST member 18-year-old Mia Lopp. "Also, based on how people react to things that are happening, we would make more activities [that address how to face those issues]."
There are about a dozen members in ASSIST, but events and programs are open to everyone, Hannegan said.
"We address anxiety and suicide and everything in between," Hannegan said. "I'm amazed every year how they open up and look out for one another."
Hannegan said part of normalizing mental health is keeping the conservation going.
"Sometimes we're feeling really balanced and all our coping mechanisms are in place and sometimes they're not and there's no shame in that," she said. "Being equipped for those moments and knowing how do I develop an emotional tool kit [is what we're trying to teach] ... It's all brain chemistry. It's not character flaws.
ASSET raised $433 during the event, which will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.