HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL OCTOBER 2015 BY TERRY ACUAYO For kids having difficulties handling the challenges that come with being a teenager, there's now a place to go for comfort and collaboration. Adolescence may well be the most challenging and unique stage of a person's life. Hormonal, intellectual, psychological and emotional changes must all be dealt with simultaneously. While some teens take it in stride and enjoy the experience of not having many responsibilities, others have a hard time finding a way to cope with the feelings of distress brought about by those tumultuous years. Sometimes, the difference between an emotionally healthy adolescence and one that is filled with isolation and helplessness lies in having someone to turn to while trying to get through academic and social problems, and peer and family issues. "It's critical for teens to have resources and a support network out there to help them resolve conflicts and challenges in a more effective and healthy way," says Dr. Michelle Channing, a psychologist who serves on the advisory board of the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention (FISP) in Weston. "Isolation can exacerbate depression, so having an outlet to be able to talk and work things through helps teens feel like they're not alone." That is exactly what FISP founder Jackie Rosen had in mind when she created the HOPE (Helping Overcome Problems Effectively) Clubs in Broward County. The after-school clubs are designed to educate, support and develop problem-solving and coping skills, while fostering the prevention of suicide, bullying and substance abuse, as well as other difficult issues teens encounter on a daily basis. The purpose of the clubs is for students to work together and help each other overcome their problems. Now in its third year, the program is in place in 1 1 Broward County middle and high schools, including Imagine Middle School West and Cypress Bay High School, both in Weston. Club members meet every week during the school year for one hour. "The first thing they learn is how to solve a problem with several steps: realizing they have a problem, defining what the problem is, giving the problem to the group and having the group members take it on as if it were their own. The group then brainstorms all the possible solutions or coping methods for that problem," says Rosen. "They help the person with the problem form and implement a plan to either cope or solve it. The person then goes and tries the plan out, comes back, brings it to the group and tells them if it did or didn't work, and if it didn't, they know there are always other options." As executive director of FISP, Rosen deals daily with families who have lost a child to suicide. Often, she says, parents are oblivious to the fact that their child is even contemplating suicide, the third-leading cause of death in youth between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in approximately 4,600 lives lost each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Kids today are so used to instant gratification. They feel that if their problem's not solved immediately, the world is going to end. Many times they think they can't live through what's happening now," says Rosen. "It's very important for parents to realize that the earlier they become aware that something is wrong and the faster they get help for their child, the higher the chances that child will lead a normal, healthy life." FISP encourages students to start clubs at different schools throughout South Florida. While the organization provides 108 inWESTON MAGAZINE members with the necessary curriculum and information needed to function and monitors their progress, the clubs are run entirely by students. The point is to have a peer group function in which kids are comfortable opening up to each other and supporting each other. After losing his best friend to suicide three years ago, Renzo Barredo wanted to give back to the community by raising awareness on the subject. He became involved with FISP and is about to become the organization's newest board member. His future plans include working closely with members of the HOPE Clubs and engaging young professionals by creating a subcommittee to connect the teens with successful young men and women who may become role models to them. "I've realized that, being a young professional, you're able to connect with the kids a little easier than if an older person were to speak with them. We're not far removed from our days in high school, so we're able to relate and understand some of the struggles they're going through," says Barredo, a 29-year-old financial advisor. Lyndsay Brunstetter, a 12th-grader who co-founded the HOPE Club at Western High School in Davie last school year, is thankful to the club for boosting her self-confidence and helping put her worries into perspective. Today, the 17-year-old is able to better appreciate the value of life. "I've been able to relax more in the smaller moments that sometimes teens can get stressed about. I've learned to value the little things, even if they are negative, and learn from them," she says. "I feel like there is more hope in me. As cliché as it may sound, I do believe that this club has taught me that." For more information, visit fisphope.org.