After nearly a year of planning and preparation, Sources of Strength — an evidence-based program that aims to prevent suicide, violence, bullying and substance abuse by youth — is being implemented at Lakeview High School and North Lake High School.

Sources of Strength (SoS) is a national program that can be implemented at a local level to train, support and empower “both peer leaders and caring adults to impact their world through the power of connection, hope, help and strength,” according to the program’s website.

Lake County Prevention Coordinator Francie Winters, who has been instrumental in bringing the program to the area, explained how it got started in Lake County. After David Kerr, former North Lake School District superintendent, checked around nationally for which anti-suicide program had the best reputation with other school districts, Winters said, he landed on Sources of Strength.

After trying to get the program into Lake County schools a few years ago, Lake Health District’s grant writer wrote the program into an Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization (EOCCO) grant for targeted health issues identified by Lake County’s Community Action Council.

Winters and Population Health/Prevention staff Piper Marks — who at the time was still working as a juvenile counselor with Wellness — attended a SoS training in Bend in spring of 2020 just as COVID was hitting. “We returned to Lakeview and the next week everything started getting shut down,” Winters said.

The juxtaposition of having such a positive experience at the training — which Winters said was top notch, fun, fast-paced and very well-executed by the SoS leaders — combined soon after with schools and events shutting down was difficult. Winters said she and Marks left the training feeling empowered and excited to bring what they knew back to Lakeview and get to work implementing SoS locally. But as everything began to grind to a halt, it became apparent that the passion project would have to wait.

Fast forward to the end of 2020: the first SoS adult advisor training was conducted virtually by Winters and Marks with help from partners in Lake County School District #7 and North Lake School District.

While a virtual training is not the norm for the program, Winters and others were happy that everyone involved got on board with doing the training virtually as COVID cases had spiked locally. Even without being together in-person, Winters said she could see people’s faces and hear in their voices that they were connecting with the material and understanding what a positive impact Sources of Strength can have on local youth. “There was so much emotion, passion and commitment in the group. You could see the magic,” she related.

She is also passionate about the way SoS works because it specifically focuses on kids who are “on the fringes,” who may not be engaged in sports or other school activities that help them connect with their peers. Having a diverse cross-section of the student population involved in the program is essential for Sources of Strength to succeed in Lake County, she said.

“Our mission is to help students and staff turn to their strengths and their supports that are all around. Our mission recognizes that our voice has great power and we use it to break the silence when someone is struggling, and to connect them to the help they need and deserve. We spread hope by focusing on stories of strength, rather than on stories of trauma. We know our most powerful impact comes from our personal actions, conversations, and messages that use our music, our art, our writing, our activities, our social media, our culture, and our voice. This gives life to our efforts,” the SoS website describes.

Dates are currently being set for a peer leader training at LHS, which will involve students who are selected by faculty. North Lake will hold the same training in February.

“We are excited to finally bring this program to our communities, and only feel bad that so many challenges have slowed progress. But they haven’t stopped it. Building resilience in our youth is something we know Lake County will support 100% and the message of ‘hope, help and strength’ fit with who we are,” Winters expressed.

For more information about Sources of Strength, visit sourcesofstrength.org.

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