Reflections on Sources of Strength & NREPP

Greetings from Sources of Strength. In the past few weeks we have been accepted to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP). This is the highest tier a prevention program can achieve. It’s a great honor for our organization and for all the peer leader teams around the US and Canada that are impacting their schools and communities.

I found this to be an emotional moment for me as I immediately thought back to standing gravesite by many teens in the 1990’s and reflected on the first steps of creating the strength-based peer efforts in the late 90’s when most voices in the country were saying not to use peer leaders in suicide prevention. Our early work in rural and tribal communities led to the holistic model represented in the Sources of Strength wheel today.

I also thought back to a cold November day in 2005 when Peter Wyman from the University of Rochester, Hendricks Brown from the University of South Florida, and David Litts from SPRC flew into Bismarck to see what this Sources of Strength deal was all about. Peter and Hendricks had just finished one of the nation’s largest research trials on gatekeeper training and were conducting a national search of peer led efforts in their attempts to address some of the gaps in prevention their research had found. That trip was the start of a rich and dynamic community-research partnership that is in full swing to this day. I feel blessed, amazed, weary, and refreshed as I think through the many years leading up to the NREPP posting.

“Upstream” prevention is a trendy buzzword today, but my sincere hope is to contribute to how suicide prevention is conceptualized in some significant ways. Our goal is to empower local leaders, both young people and adults so they can truly create positive change. With many schools already having been rigorously evaluated and a large number in our present five-year National Peer Leadership Study we can possibly be one of the first efforts to statistically answer the question of whether we are truly reducing suicide fatalities and injuries.

This is not easy work. I was recently reading on how Community-Based Participatory Research is often spoken of, but how few programs are able to do this in reality, especially in large scale randomized trials. Putting together a large randomized trial while listening, respecting, and learning from our community partners is not a task for the faint of heart. It is the high wire act of prevention – balancing the rigors of research with the challenges of maintaining true partnerships in schools and communities. Being able to make strategic change to Sources of Strength from two equally important directions – research outcomes and from the community/school input and experience.

Not easy work at all and it takes some great researchers like Peter Wyman and Hendricks Brown, combined with key stakeholders with vision for states, regions, and tribes. Mix in some outstanding adults that will mentor and support peer leaders not just for a few months, but for a few years. Add groups of local peer leaders with energy, vision, diversity, passion, and creativity. Stir, support, train, support some more and something pretty special comes out.

What it means is that the NREPP posting is a great step in this process. We get to pause and raise our glasses to each other and say well done. So from across the country the Sources of Strength staff is raising our glasses to all of you and saying well done.

My vision of Sources of Strength is that after this powerful moment, we move back to work and continue to evaluate, research, and listen and continue to make an impact out in the real world. Implementing programs in schools, communities, and villages that are seriously challenged with limited resources, high fatality numbers, and day to day crisis threatening the ability to sustain prevention efforts. My vision is that Sources of Strength is never a finished product, but that we keep adapting, learning, marketing, and changing. While we have products, curriculum, manuals, and resources there is no “finished product” in Sources of Strength. We keep making changes in our efforts based upon ongoing and expanding research and on the stories and experiences from our grassroots partners.

So thank you. Thank you. Much peace and do know that your efforts are greatly appreciated. Let’s keep lighting up our corners of the world and keep walking forward with a humble, inquisitive, engaged, playful spirit of awe that we get to go to work each day and actually save some young lives. Pretty amazing.

-Mark