Peer Leader Spotlight: Kennedy Jackson

We spoke with Penfield High School junior, Kennedy Jackson.

What gets you excited about Sources of Strength?

Our meetings are fun! We always start with a game. I really like that Sources of Strength uses fun, but then we can still come together as a team to get things done.

How have you been personally impacted by Sources of Strength?

I have become a lot more positive. I get stressed out very easily, so I try to use pieces of the wheel to remind myself of my strengths, and then I can talk to certain people or do certain activities to make myself feel better. I know I can talk to my Adult Advisors about anything!

How have you been able to use Sources of Strength in other areas of your life.

I am in seven other clubs and do track. A lot of the clubs mesh together with others so I am able to take pieces from Sources of Strength and use it in all of them. Sources of Strength and track work really well together for me. When there is an issue on the team I can use what I’ve learned in Sources if Strength to handle it better.

Has your school culture changed?

Since my freshman year our school is a lot more positive now! We have daily announcements with a positive quote for the day from Sources of Strength read from a Peer Leader. We also have posters of the wheel all over school. They are in every classroom, the counseling rooms, the gym, the hallways, the commons, the lunchroom…everywhere! It’s a great reminder of how you can use your strengths.

What are a few of your favorite campaigns your school has done?

I like our campaign right now, “I Am Stronger.” Upper classmen are giving advice to under classmen by writing stories about “If we knew then what we know now,” and how a piece of the wheel has helped us in high school. I wrote about healthy activities and how supportive the track team has been for one another.  

We have a “Great Wall of Kindness” up where students can pick a random act of kindness card from a wall. Some examples were, open the door for someone, give someone a compliment, bring someone flowers, etc. Then when a student has finished a random act the card can go back on the wall for someone else to use. I try to do one every week. It makes me feel good about myself and I hope that I can make someone else smile and have a better day.

We also made a big wheel in the lunchroom where kids could come spin the wheel and whatever strength it landed on they gave an example of how they use that piece of the wheel or how they could make it stronger. A ton of people did it! We also gave them candy after : )

What’s your favorite activity right now?

Running outside! It helps release any pent up energy and feelings.

End of the Year Celebration Guide

It’s almost the end of the year! It always sneaks up sooner than expected. We are excited to see so many of the great campaigns you have been running at your schools. As the school year comes to a close, we want to remind you of the importance of an end of the year celebration.

Setting aside time to thank Peer Leaders for their hard work and commitment is not only important for remembering our mission, but also for keeping up numbers as you go into your next year. Students that feel recognized and supported are far more likely to remain involved in the Sources of Strength program going forward.

This celebration does not have to be big or expensive. Here are some simple ideas that could help make your Sources of Strength team feel seen and appreciated:

This celebration can take many forms. Here are some key things to keep in mind however you decide to celebrate:

  • Remember to touch both minds and hearts, share stories of impact, strength, and connection and point to numbers and reach of your campaigns over the course of the year. Read records that you have kept from efforts throughout your time together. Page 12 of the Adult Field Guide (also found online) is a great way to help Peer Leaders understand the important impact they have had on their school.
  • Provide students with Award Certificates/Patches/Plaques recognizing their leadership and the important role they play as a peer leader.
  • Host a celebration event and invite parents, friends, teachers etc to join in the recognition and celebration. This can be a great opportunity to communicate the mission and impact of your Sources of Strength team to others and students will love being honored in front of their friends and families.
  • Allow Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors to briefly share what the group has meant to them this year.

Here are some ideas for planning a celebration:

  • Serve cake and play some group games like Thumper and Walk Around Cool.
  • Show a slideshow of your group’s time together throughout the year.
  • Create silly or fun awards for members of your team like, “Most Likely to Get Way too Into Rock Paper Scissors” or, “Chief Problem Solver”.
  • Have a pot-luck and a games tournament.
  • End of the year water balloon fight on the quad? Yes, please!

We would love to see your end of the year celebrations. Tag #sourcesofstrength on social media or email us at As always, feel free to contact any of the Sources team members for more ideas or to answer questions you might have. Good luck!

Featured Event: Parent Night

Sources of Strength Parent Night

1.5 hour evening event

Hosted as a joint event between Gunn High School and Paly High School in Palo Alto, CA.

The event focused on how parents, educators and students can work together at home and in our schools to prevent the epidemics of bullying, addiction and suicide.

The evening consisted of an opening introduction which included Gunn and Paly educators providing an overview of the Sources of Strength program.

Dr. Shashank Joshi, Stanford Associate Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, also shared the research behind Sources of Strength, which shows that creating a preventive culture in our community that fosters an epidemic of Hope, Help and Strength is the most effective form of suicide prevention.

Parents then broke out into student-led sessions focused on one of four strengths: Family Support, Spirituality, Healthy Activities and Mental Health/Medical Access.

In these 8- to 10-minute sessions, two student presenters explained the strength, shared with attendees their own experience, and provided a space for conversations about what we all struggle with in life and where we find the strength to overcome our challenges.

Parents had the opportunity to rotate through each strength and hear different experiences. The evening wrapped up with a choral reading of the mission statement and the chance for parents to complete a survey to give feedback.

Between 40 and 50 parents attended the event, and 16 Gunn and Paly student leaders were involved.

Parents were pleased with the event, especially with learning about different strengths on the wheel and about hearing student perspectives.

Key to the success of the Sources of Strength program is to develop awareness and a shared vocabulary at home and in our community so that families can support the work we are doing in our schools.  



Peer Leader SpotLight: Jordan Bentz – Century High School

We sat down with Senior Jordan Bentz from Century High School in Bismarck, North Dakota to chat about all things Sources of Strength.

Sources: What gets you excited about Sources of Strength?

Jordan: We are a small group of students, but when we go out into the school we break barriers. I like that we can get out positive messages and create a ripple effect even if kids don’t realize it. It’s fun to see other school organizations joining in as well.



Sources: Can you talk about the other organizations partnering with Sources of Strength?

Jordan: Four organizations partnered together, Sources of Strength, SADD, Student Council and Peer to Peer. [Peer to Peer is a class that began at Century that pairs students with and without disabilities together as a way to connect all students] When one organization has an idea you get the backing from the others to make it that much more epic. The four organizations hit many different friend groups so each organization can bring forth hundreds of students. I like the idea that we can get together to support one another and be that much more effective.


Watch this video for more information about partnering with other organizations.


Sources: How has your school culture changed since Sources of Strength has been there?

Jordan: When Peer to Peer started at Century, inclusion with students with disabilities was hyped up, and then we realized we had new students coming to school who didn’t speak English so Sources started asking, ‘How do we get these students involved too?’ Each organization had their own targeted students and together they could bring everyone together. This year on the homecoming court we had two students with disabilities and it was cool they had the backing of the student organizations who had socialized with them and got their names out there.


Sources: Do you think you would have seen a change without Sources of Strength?

Jordan: No! The change you see is with the people you wouldn’t expect to see it with. You see it in kids who didn’t even want a change, and then we just made it a reality and the positive change happened right under our noses. We had kids who would ignore someone who was a little quirky, and they don’t do that anymore. It’s cool to be nice now! Even from my freshman year to now I have seen a big change where we have a focus on inclusion. It’s no longer ‘Let’s include everyone,’ now it’s ‘We are including everyone.’


Sources: How have you been personally impacted by Sources of Strength?

Jordan: If you would have asked me my freshman year who I would be hanging out with my senior year, I wouldn’t have said half the people I would now. Sources presents an opportunity to talk to people you normally wouldn’t talk to. I have met people who have had struggles and hardships and I saw how they overcame them. I’ve learned that I can be an optimistic person too who can change the world. I get out of my comfort zone now to introduce myself to someone I wouldn’t have before because now I understand that they are as uncomfortable as I am so why not do something about it. A positive mindset can change you.


Sources: What does a Sources of Strength meeting look like at Century?

Jordan: We try to meet every other week or at the least once a month, and every month we try to focus on a different part of the wheel. We start out with fun games and then sit down to plan the month. For example, if we are focusing on positive friends we start asking, ‘What actives do we want to do to reflect that?’ It’s a lot of brainstorming and communicating. Everyone gets their turn to share what they want to see happen. We also spend time reflecting on how our last event went.


Sources: What are some unique ideas Century’s Sources of Strength have come up with?

Jordan: We had the four partnered organizations get together for a fun night of pizza and tie dyeing shirts with positive messages. Then we all would wear them to school on specific days. For the new year we all made shirts that said “Hello 2018!” We also have basketball and Eclipse Ball tournaments throughout the year that are so much fun!


Sources: Can you explain your Eclipse Ball Tournament? It sounds amazing!

[Eclipse Ball – think volleyball, badminton and tennis all wrapped together]

Jordan: Any students at Century can sign up in teams of four. A lot of clubs and sports will make teams. On the day of, we make a bracket and the teams that win move down the bracket until two teams are left. Everyone stands and cheers on the championship game. A lot of people just come to watch – there’s definitely is a fan base. It’s a day of friendly competition! You wouldn’t think kids would come back to school for something at night, but there is a big group of kids who like a little competition and they are always asking when our next tournament is.


Sources: How have your Adult Advisors helped you?

Jordan: They are all amazing people. Our advisor Mrs. Bentz (no relation) would see me in the hallway and she always had something positive to say. It was amazing how after just one year in the hallway she changed my outlook on life. She encompassed the idea of Sources of Strength into her everyday life. She makes students relate to her – she’s kind of a goofy mom figure but that’s who she is and that’s how she impacts people. We have had so many teachers go to Sources of Strength trainings now and even if they don’t go to the meetings, they have all changed too and have become more considerate. For example, if they see a student sleeping in class they may be sleeping because of something at home they can’t control. The teachers are starting to consider who the student is beyond the classroom.


Sources: Any words of advice for other schools using Sources of Strength?

Jordan: Just go for it! Don’t hold back! Ideas may sound too weird or too big, but those are the things that get people’s attention. And even the small things you do that don’t seem to be going well, it still can help one person and that’s what Sources of Strength is all about.


Sources: Ok Jordan, last question, what’s your favorite healthy activity from this week?

Jordan: On the last day of the semester my lunch group saw a bunch of basketballs in the gym so we asked the gym teacher if we could use them. Our little group had a mini basketball tournament – it was so fun!

For more information on the partnership between school organizations at Century High School, go to the “Creating Partnerships” video on the adult advisor video page.

We Belong Campaign


We Belong Campaign

The purpose of the WE BELONG CAMPAIGN is to create a sense of belonging, connection, inclusion, and tolerance. In Thomas Joiner’s Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior, he argues that a failed sense of belongingness is a key component of suicidality. Therefore, activities, messages, and campaigns that foster a sense of belonging amongst students can help to reduce suicide risk. A key component for achieving a sense of belonging is feeling that one’s own unique or special qualities are part of a larger school or community family. We want a young person to be able to say, “Although we may be different, we all belong and have a place within the larger school or community. Our differences make us stronger.” This campaign seeks to create space and opportunities for students and staff to share stories of what makes them unique or special, and then display each individual’s unique contribution as a vital part of a larger whole. By writing or stating how “I Belong,” we can cultivate a sense that “We Belong.”  


As in all Sources of Strength campaigns the goal is to create opportunities for the general population to ENGAGE, INTERACT, and APPLY the principles to their own lives and personal context. By creating space to tell personal stories of belonging, the WE BELONG CAMPAIGN contextualizes and normalizes that our school and our community holds a space for everyone and that each unique person belongs to the larger whole.


Steps to running a WE BELONG CAMPAIGN:

In a Peer Leader planning meeting, follow the 3 step formula for success: one part fun + one part sharing + one part planning.

One Part Fun

The following games connect to the theme of belonging, connection, inclusion, and tolerance: Human Knot, Yarn Knot, Walk Around Cool, or Hog Call. When the game is finished, make a light and easy teaching point about the importance of belonging in our lives, or the importance of asking for help, of using our voice etc.

One Part Sharing


Read the campaign introduction to your Peer Leader team during a planning meeting. Explain how this campaign is designed to create belongingness, connection, inclusion, and tolerance.



Handout the WE BELONG cards and ask Peer Leaders to think about something that makes them special or unique. Fill in the blank on the card with something that gives you a sense of belonging. Give the Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors about five minutes to think about and write this story.



Go around the circle and allow each Peer Leader and Adult Advisor to share what they wrote on their card, saying, “I am blank, and I Belong”. Once everyone in the group has shared, end with the whole group saying in unison, “We Belong”.

It is important that Peer Leaders are able to internalize the campaigns and the Sources of Strength in their lives, thus making the campaign much more powerful and impactful.


Peer Leader Pledge

Invite Peer Leaders to sign the We Belong Pledge. Then go around the circle and have each student read a few words of the We Belong Pledge. Peer Leaders have the option of creating a quick video of Peer Leaders reading the We Belong Pledge and then posting it to social media.


One Part Planning

Now spend some time as a larger group, brainstorming ideas for the WE BELONG CAMPAIGN and how your Peer Leader team can engage the rest of the school/community in sharing their unique stories that contribute to the larger whole or school family. Once your group has done a little large group brainstorming, break them up into smaller groups (depending on the overall size of your group) and have them brainstorm around specific mediums: wall displays and art, video, social media, announcements and print media, and school-wide activities. Below are a few suggestions for each medium. These suggestions should function as a guide, helping your Peer Leaders to come up with safe and effective messages. It might be useful to share some of these ideas with each specific group.


We Belong Wall Display


  • create a Mosaic with students unique contribution on a tile and then place them on a wall or board

Photo Wall Display

  • group photos placed on wall to spell out “We Belong”

Puzzled Together

  • pieces with students unique contribution that are fit together into a wall display

We Belong to the Bigger Picture

  • Cards that create a larger picture when they are put together into the right sequence. Each card has a background image that only makes sense when they are all put together. Numbers of sequence on the back of card.


We Belong Videos

Time-lapse We Belong

  • Time lapse of someone putting a puzzle together with voice over of people sharing times when they didn’t fit in and then found belonging

We Belong Statements

  • Short video cuts of students saying, “I am blank and I Belong”. Video ends with group saying, “I belong (one student), You belong (two to five students), We belong” (big group).

Group Video

  • Time-lapse of students spelling out the words “We Belong,” either with a large group shot from above or with students lying down on the ground.

Vignette We Belong Stories

  • Longer interview with students asking them, “How do you know when you belong?,” “What makes you feel like you belong?,” or “Tell us a story of a person or a time when you felt like you belonged”.


We Belong Social Media Challenges


  • Use this hashtag to cultivate a conversation around belonging. Ask students to post about what makes them special or unique.

I Belong Challenge

  • Post a picture of a person or place that makes you feel like you belong. Write a statement about why you chose that person or place.

Selfie/Ussie Challenge

  • Take a selfie or ussie with your card(s) and post it with a statement #webelong. Tag five friends to post their we belong selfie/ussie and we belong statement.

We Belong Challenge

  • Ask fellow students to post group pictures, using their bodies or other creative ways to spell out the words “We Belong.”

Opposites Attract

  • Post a picture of you and an unlikely friend, someone different than you but through friendship have overcome those differences.


Announcements or Print Media

Stories of Getting Involved

  • Collect and publish or read over announcements, stories of how you got involved and belong to a group at your school.

New School Stories

  • Collect and publish or read over announcements, stories of students who transferred and how you came to belong at your new school.

Thank You Stories

  • Collect and publish or read over announcements, stories thanking a person for making you feel like you belong.

What Changed Stories

  • Stories of times you didn’t feel like you belonged and what helped or changed; i.e., you got involved in a group, someone reached out to you, you found an interest that connected you to people, you found new friends, a teacher took an interest in you, time passed and things got better, etc.


School-Wide Activities

Meet Someone New

  • Everyone wears four colors of name tags with names. During break students have to find someone who has the same color on name tag, learn their name, and find something you have in common with them. Encourage Peer Leaders to reach out to isolated students during this time or students they have never talked to before.

Mix-it Up Lunch 

      • Cafeteria workers hand out slips of colored paper as students go through the lunch line. Students sit at tables marked with that color. Encourages students to meet new people and engage in lunch time conversations with students outside their normal friend groups. 

Puzzle Pieces

  • Print out large four piece puzzles (1 shape for each grade level). Instruct students to find 1 student from each grade, fit puzzle together, and share something unique or special about you. Write it on a card and post it to the wall.

Human We Belong

  • Spell out “We Belong” or just “Belong” with people and take a picture from above. Use a drone or take photo from the school roof (get permission first).

Photo Booth We Belong

  • Set up photo booth and take pictures of of individuals or groups, then create a mural with all the pictures spelling out “We Belong”. This could include chalk boards and chalk where students within a group or a group as a whole can write down things that make them who they are.

We Belong T-Shirts

  • Spray paint or tape one letter from the letters “We Belong” on each shirt – then find other students who have the letters you need to spell out “We Belong”. Take a fun “ussie” and post it online (incentive – fastest groups win a prize).

Poem or Lip Sync Competition

  • Poems or songs reflecting on what makes you special or unique. Poems or songs that capture the ideas that we all get to be apart of the school family no matter what.

Belonging Survey

Strength Specific Campaigns



Strength Specific Campaigns

The possibilities for creating events and campaigns to raise awareness of strengths are endless! We are constantly impressed by the creativity and insight of Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors to come up with great ideas that can change their school’s culture for the better. Here are a few ideas in each category to help you get started:


Family Support

  • Make a Family Tree and write down the positive qualities or things you appreciate about each of the members of the tree that you named. This could be Peer Leader’s actual family members or their “chosen” family.
  • Create a paper chain. On each link, write the name of someone in your family (the one you were born into, or the one that you chose) that you feel supported by. Pass out pieces of paper to everyone in the school, either in classrooms or the lunchroom and then add each piece to the paper chain. Display it in the school or community space.
  • Use the hashtag #SOURCESOFSTRENGTH and have people post pics of their fam- whatever that looks like for them, and print them up as posters to hang around the school.
  • Host an awkward family photo competition where students are invited to find a funny picture of their family (the one you were born into, or the one that you choose), and then to post that photo to social media (#sourcesofstrength), with a comment about how your family supports you.


Positive Friends

  • Challenge everyone in the school to meet 5 new friends and learn 2 truths and a lie about each of them.
  • Host a school-wide kickball tournament. Each Peer Leader is a team captain, but you have to find 5 people you don’t know to participate as your teammates.
  • Hold auditions for a lip-sync battle: all band names and songs have to be about friendship.
  • Host a MOTH-style story slam, where Peer Leaders tell powerful stories of unexpected friendships.
  • Invite the Literature/Language Arts Departments to get involved. Assign an essay about unlikely friendships, using novels, essays, and poems that tell stories of positive friendships that changed people’s lives.



  • Host Dress Like your Mentor Day, then host a fashion show, voting on who captured the essence of their mentor the most.
  • Mentor Madness Bracket: Have the student population submit list of mentors/trusted adults in the school and/or community. Help the Sources team rank them in a March Madness style bracket with fun activities, feats of strength, challenges during lunch or passing periods. Advance different mentors to the championship round and each year give out a trophy for the winning mentor.
  • Throw a mentor’s parade and invite local mentors to the school to accompany high school leaders at the local middle or elementary schools. This can build community and celebrate the impact of mentors (6th grade reading buddies, coaches, YL leaders, etc.)
  • Set up a speed-dating style Mentor event, where different adults in the community who have a desire and a capacity to mentor a student can meet them in a safe way, creating space for connection.


Healthy Activities

  • Set up a photo booth and have students bring in props to showcase what their healthy activities are.
  • Do a Mannequin Challenge video down the halls of the school where everyone is frozen in the pose of their favorite healthy activity.
  • Create an art contest for healthy activity submissions: photography, spoken word, painting, poetry, music, etc.
  • Create partnerships with local organizations and have school-sponsored nights at bowling alleys, mini-golf courses, volleyball courts, waterparks, and amusement parks, etc. Have people post selfies to show how your school is tapping into their strengths.
  • Set up different rooms in the school featuring the healthy activities preferred by students on the outsides of the social networks, not just the traditional (or more sporty) joiners. Rooms could include a video game room, board game room, Iron Chef-style cook-offs, instrument jamming room, etc.


  • Start a Random Acts of Kindness campaign so that the domino effect is seen (or the tidal wave, or snowball effect), showing more and more kindness catching on.
  • Host School Supply Drives, Winter Coat and Glove Drives, Food Drives, etc. as is seasonally appropriate.
  • Set up a volunteer board next to the jobs board at the school. List opportunities for students to help others with homework, tutoring, yard work for the elderly, carpools for underclassmen, etc.
  • Create a Get You Some Generosity wall display (could be renamed, Generous&See, Get Generous, Be Generous, Giving is Living, Share is Caring, etc…), where Peer Leaders write acts of Generosity on post-it notes so that other students can take a note off the wall and then go and participate in that act of generosity. This activity focused on inviting other students into acts of generosity.


  • Run a Thankfulness Challenge.
  • Survey the entire student body about their top 20 things they are thankful for, then compile the list to highlight how many similarities there are among the students.
  • Host an assembly where a diverse range of spiritual practices are showcased. This will require some prep to ensure that the event doesn’t function as an evangelistic tool of one set of beliefs or practices. Instead, highlight the beauty that each spiritual practice offers the person.
  • Invite the Literature/Language Arts Departments to get involved. Assign an essay about rites of passage in various cultural and religious practices, then have the student body create a rite of passage for students as they move up a grade level or as they graduate.
  • Draw a tree with branches moving out. Hand out colored paper in the shape of leaves and have students write down things that they are thankful for, posting them on the branches when they are finished.
  • Create an art contest for spirituality submissions: use photography, spoken word, poetry, or music to complete the sentence, “I feel connected to something bigger than myself when I ________________.”
  • Have each class start with a three minute mindfulness exercise, gratefulness challenge, or a breathing practice.


Medical Access

  • Host a panel of medical practitioners to talk about access to care during an assembly or in classroom presentations.
  • Create a poster campaign of students with stereotypical physical injuries to make a connection between getting medical access, and using mental health resources, i.e., the hockey player with a blacked out tooth saying- “If I lost my tooth, I’d go to a dentist, and when I lost my way, I went to the school counselor.”
  • Host a blood drive on campus or do an organ donor drive on campus.


Mental Health

  • Survey the student body to see what helps them manage their anxiety, then create opportunities for those stress-relievers to be on campus during finals week (yoga, dogs to pet, open gym, etc.)
  • Create a de-stress space at the school, where students can hang out when they are wrestling with one of the Big Three Emotions – Anxiety, Anger, Depression.
  • Host a viewing party of the movie Inside Out and have the Peer Leaders facilitate a Q&A about managing big emotions in response.
  • Host a community night where students and their families could learn more about mental health resources in the area.
  • Create a video contest for mental health submissions: use videos (imagery/scripts/songs) to tell a story of how Peer Leaders manage big emotions. Remember to keep it focused on Hope, Help, and Strength.

CONNECT CAMPAIGN – Friends Connect Friends to Help


The purpose of the CONNECT CAMPAIGN is to create positive social norming that breaks down codes of silence, secrecy requests, and increases help seeking. This is accomplished by creating space and opportunities for students and staff to share stories of times they either got connected in a time of difficulty, or connected someone else who they saw was struggling. As in all Sources of Strength campaigns, the goal is to create opportunities for the general population to ENGAGE, INTERACT, and APPLY the principles to their own lives and personal context. By creating space to tell personal stories of connection, the CONNECT CAMPAIGN contextualizes and normalizes help seeking and the importance of getting connected during difficult times.

Steps to running a CONNECT CAMPAIGN:

In a Peer Leader follow up meeting, follow the three ingredients to success of one part fun + one part sharing + one part planning.

One Part Fun

There are a number of games that could illustrate a teaching point around connection. For example, you could run Human Knot, Yarn Knot, Walk Around Cool, or Hog Call and make a light and easy teaching point about the importance of connection in our lives, the importance of asking for help, using our voice, etc.

One Part Sharing

Pass out the CONNECT CAMPAIGN cards and give the students instructions to think about and write down a story of a time “I GOT CONNECTED” by someone who reached out and provided help or guidance or support. Or, briefly describe a time “I CONNECTED” when they helped connect someone to help, resources, or services. Encourage them to keep stories of connecting others confidential so we are not broadcasting someone else’s difficulty; we can use general terms like “I CONNECTED my friend/brother/another student, etc.”

Give the Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors about five minutes to think about and write this story. Then have them turn to someone next to them or form small groups and share about their connection story. It is important that Peer Leaders are able to internalize the campaigns and the Sources of Strength in their lives, thus making the campaign much more powerful and impactful.

One Part Planning

Spend some time talking about the CONNECT CAMPAIGN and how you can engage the rest of the school or community in sharing stories of getting connected, of asking for help, of providing help, and of connecting to counselors, teachers, friends, spirituality, medical or mental health care, etc.

You can use the CONNECT CARDS, colorful yarn, and pushpins or tape to create a powerful visual wall display around the importance and extensiveness of connection in your school. Give students and adults in your school the CONNECT CARDS and have them write their stories of getting connected or connecting someone else. Collect and review these cards for appropriateness and confidentiality.

Once you have many positive cards, have your Peer Leaders create a web of connection by taping or pinning a CONNECT CARD and piece of yarn to the wall. Run the yarn to another point on the wall and pin the yarn again with another CONNECT CARD. Continue in this fashion until you have a vast display of stories of connection that are all connected by the thread of yarn, creating a powerful visual art display. This can help facilitate conversation and reflection and serves as a normalizing tool that says, “In our school, we get help, we ask for help, we are connected and we connect one another to help when needed”. Consider posting resources for connection next to the wall display so students can find who their counselor is and how they can connect with them. You may also consider posting some photos along with the connect cards (like a Polaroid of the people involved) to add some depth and personality to the display.

You can supplement the connect campaign with social media posts about connection using the hashtag #CONNECTCAMPAIGN, through classroom presentations, or even by creating smaller displays in individual classrooms, through connection nights or events at the school, and any number of other incredible and creative ideas you come up with. Don’t forget to share your Connect walls and campaign ideas with us on our social media channels by hashtagging #sourcesofstrength 


Highlighting the Idaho Lives Project

Last month, Kim Kane and Judy Gabert, two of our partners with the Idaho Lives Project were facilitating a community meeting in Caldwell, Idaho. With more than 50 community leaders in the room, a father, a local finance manager, stood up to introduce himself but was quickly flooded with emotion, unable to speak. He paused, composed himself, and through tears declared, “That program at Caldwell High just saved my son’s life.”     

A peer leader from Sources of Strength at Caldwell connected this man’s son to a trusted adult. Willing to break the silence, they helped their friend get the support he needed, and a life was saved. Friends help friends get help.

The Idaho Lives Project (ILP) is engaged in a statewide effort to implement Sources of Strength in middle schools and high schools across Idaho. ILP is reporting story after story of peer leaders and adult advisors partnering to spread a message of hope, health and strength in their communities.

While visiting Eagle Academy this past fall, Kim Kane heard a similar story from a school counselor. One of the peer leaders in the school had been experiencing suicidal ideation, and their peer leader team responded quickly by connecting the student to a trusted adult. The school counselor was invited into the situation and intervened, offering the necessary support and mental health services to the struggling student.  

After hosting a mini Sources of Strength training at a Juvenile Justice center in Idaho, the director of the center emailed the Idaho Lives Project reporting that the training and the program had helped to save the life of a suicidal juvenile, who was now receiving help and support. They also shared the inspiring story of one young man who stood up at the end of the training and demanded to know why no one had told him that he had strengths. What’s more, this young man expressed hope and confidence that he could now make it outside, knowing he has other strengths to draw on even without family support.

The Idaho Lives Project has also shared stories of the program’s impact in postvention situations, where after the (non-suicide) death of a student at Eagle Academy last spring (2015), the peer leader team mobilized into action. The counselor at the school reported that her peer leaders, who had already shared the wheel within classrooms, went around  reminding staff and students to tap into and use their strengths when struggling with the loss of this friend and fellow classmate. Many teachers reported being impacted by the efforts of these peer leaders (having known the deceased for four years), and the counselor said that the staff and students communicated they were helped by the strength-based messaging of the school’s Sources of Strength team.  

These, and many other stories have added meaning and significance to the work of the Idaho Lives Project and their team. The hours of planning, tirelessly chasing down funding, traveling, training, supporting adult advisors, peer leaders, and trainers, collecting data, and writing and rewriting new grant proposals to keep the program going for many years to come has been invaluable to these individual students and to the communities at large.

The Idaho Lives Project, a partnership between the Idaho State Department of Education (ISDE) and the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho (SPAN Idaho), has been doing great work over the past few years to roll out Sources of Strength on a statewide level. In the third year of implementation, having trained and sustained four cohorts of schools, they are now gearing up to train the fifth cohort to receive the Sources of Strength program. To date they have implemented the program in 30 schools (High Schools and Middle Schools), offering training to 177 Adult Advisors and 941 peer leaders, throughout 15 of Idaho’s 44 counties. On top of offering Sources of Strength training to these schools, the Idaho Lives Project has offered gatekeeper training to 1222 staff members, as well as to numerous members of the surrounding communities. All of this is part of a comprehensive statewide initiative to prevent suicide; offering gatekeeper training to Adults, upstream prevention training to youth, young adults, and adult advisors, as well as best practice suicide prevention and mental health aftercare training for clinicians.

Working toward long term sustainability, the Idaho Lives Project hosted a four day Sources of Strength Train the Trainer (T4T) Skills Session event in 2014. During this T4T, 19 local and regional trainers from schools and mental health services across the state were equipped to sustain local schools with ongoing Sources of Strength training. These efforts were funded by the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Suicide Prevention Grant. Coming to the end of this Grant, the Idaho Lives Project is currently tracking down further funding at the state and federal level, hoping to expand their implementation of Sources of Strength alongside other initiatives.

As with any large scale implementation, there have been some successes and some challenges. Some of the most challenging barriers to the success of the program have been due to: 1) high staff turnover resulting in the loss of key adult advisors; 2) school staff and administrators’ attitudes about mental well-being and commitment to the program, resulting in difficulty finding times for peer leaders to meet and plan (not wanting to use class time); 3) more schools in need than the program is able to fund; and 4) finding and training the right advisors who are committed and have the appropriate skill sets and passion for the program. Despite these challenges, the program continues to celebrate the 26 out of their 30 schools that continue to have flourishing Sources of Strength programs.

We offer this story of the Idaho Lives Project as an example of the great work that teams are doing across the country and as a specific example of what it looks like to roll out a coordinated statewide effort to prevent suicide by teaching  students, their schools, and communities how to develop the strength and resilience to overcome difficulty and live strong and meaningful lives.


Sources of Strength Week


Sources of Strength Week

The Sources of Strength Week is designed to engage your school or community in a fun way with Sources of Strength and to get students and staff, talking about, engaging in, and developing their strengths and connections to others. Be creative in planning a Sources of Strength week that fits your school, community and culture. 

A typical Sources of Strength week will assign a strength to each day of the week: either choosing five of the eight strengths, assigning two strengths for three days of the week, or running the campaign over the course of two weeks.

Each day will focus on one of the strengths, in a variety of fun and engaging ways. You can use games, classroom presentations, photo booths, sidewalk chalk, art, posters, videos, school-wide activities, small group discussions, wall displays, social media posts and challenges, school announcements, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Tips for Preparation

  • Planning: Use one to two of your Peer Leader meetings to strategically plan and prepare for a Sources of Strength Week. Brainstorm all the activities you want to do and partnerships with other groups that you can use. Break Adult Advisors and Peer Leaders up into smaller groups to work on specific topics or activities. As you are planning, think about ways to engage as many students and staff as possible. 
  • Partnering with other groups, clubs, sports teams, activities, planning committees, and outside prevention agencies, can help you achieve the broadest reach and impact of the campaign. 

Some examples of ways to partner with other groups in your community:

    • If there is a video club at your school, invite them to help make Sources of Strength Week videos. There could be a promo video to get students excited about the week, as well as a video documenting the events of the week and the fun activities.
    • If there is a graphic design class, invite these students to participate in making posters with local faces and Sources of Strength messaging.
    • If there is a photography class, invite them to document the events of the week and help create great visual content for posters, social media posts, yearbook or school newspaper articles.
    • If you have a school newspaper, invite a few of their journalist to report on the run up to, as well as the events of the week, highlight hope, help, and strength. They can also detail resources and supports that are highlighted during the week.
    • Involve all the sports teams and clubs in a Healthy Activities day, highlighting the numerous healthy activities that are available in your school or community.  
    • Invite the Counselling, Mental Health staff, and psychology class(es) to participate in a Mental Health day, leading students in positive mental health practices and highlighting and connecting students and staff to mental health supports and resources that exist in your local community.
    • Connect with local service organizations that serve your community or school and invite them to participate in and support your Generosity day. Connect to and highlight existing efforts of generosity that are practiced in your school or community.
    • Engage your local newspaper agencies and invite them to write about and highlight the efforts of your Peer Leader team and the events of the week.
    • Engage local agencies that work with families and can help offer resources, content, and support for a Family Support day.
  • Fun: It is essential to ensure that the Sources of Strength Week is fun, engaging, and remains focused on Hope, Help, and Strength. We do this by coming up with relevant ways to infuse games and a general sense of playfulness and festivity into every activity that we do. Avoid making activities or presentations too serious or long, or ever slipping into lecture or one-way presentation mode. Instead, engage students and staff in dialogue and discussion, always ensuring that  your activities, social media posts, or challenges are pointed toward strength and help to highlight connection and resiliency. If done right, a Sources of Strength Week can quickly become the highlight of the school year calendar.   

Watch this video to hear about Sources of Strength Week from other Peer Leader Groups


We want to see what you come up with! Tag Sources of Strength in your social media posts so we can check out all of your great activities. Use the hashtags #sourcesofstrength and #sourcesweek

instagramIcon_400x400 @sourcesofstrength

twitter @sourcesstrength




Getting the word out


Now that you have completed Sources of Strength Peer Leader training, it’s time to start sharing Sources of Strength with the rest of your school and community. In your first planning meetings, your team should brainstorm ways to introduce Sources of Strength to your school. This can include:

Introducing your team
Introducing people to the strengths on the wheel. Be creative. Photo booths, videos, large art installations or wall displays, classroom presentations, and social media are fun ways to share the strengths with your community. 
Create a Sources of Strength social media page for your school. Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Name it SourcesofStrengh_YourSchoolsName or YourSchoolNameStrength. Pick a few Peer Leaders and Adult Advisors to be in charge of running the account. 
Announcements about Sources and the strengths
An I Am Stronger Campaign is also a good way to share stories of strength and help students and staff reflect on their own strengths

  I am Stronger photo montage