The Happy Crew isn’t a suicide club, but a club that acts as a sort of antidote for the root causes of teen suicide. The club, for local teens, does this by being a positive force for teens in the community. This idea makes a great deal of sense to us and is one reason we decided to give the Happy Crew a small grant. But Happy Crew also caught our eye because of the originality of the club format. It’s something we hadn’t seen before, a weave of varied activities that, taken together, promote a holistic sense of well being in Happy Crew’s teen participants.
We wanted to learn more about what Happy Crew kids actually do. So we grabbed Happy Crew Board Member and Mentor Elise Neff for a chat. Elise was happy to tell us how it all works:
Kars4Kids: What happens at a Monday night crew meeting?
Elise Neff: The first part of Monday nights is all about connecting. High schools come enjoy a meal together, and just sit around and talk and chat about their week. Then the second half of the program revolves around an activity. There are student mentors there that help lead small groups to work on an activity that usually leads to a discussion about perspective, active listening, or other important skills that relate to recognizing mental illness or suicidal behaviors from their peers. It is also just a great period of reflection for students and a chance for them to practice voicing their emotions and putting their feelings into words.
Kars4Kids: Tell us about the Happy Crew stickers.
Elise Neff: The stickers are made each week to spread the very important message of “you belong” and “you matter.” Students take the stickers back to school each week, and hand them out. They get to count sticker distribution as part of their community service hours. The kids then report back with stories of things that happened while they were handing out stickers.
Kars4Kids: Can you talk to us a bit about the founding of Happy Crew?
Elise Neff: The Happy Crew was born out of 1LiquidHouse which was founded over a decade ago. Happy Crew as we know it now, really began in 2016. A student from Chaparral High School, Koby Steavens, died by suicide in the spring of 2016.
A group of local boys who were Koby’s lacrosse teammates, began meeting with Amy Mayes, the director of Happy Crew, on Mondays nights. Then they wanted to start inviting their friends to meet with Amy, too. They began distributing stickers to their classmates that said “you belong” and “you matter.” Even more kids began attending the Monday night dinners and now there are approximately 100 active members in this program, as it continues to grow.
Kars4Kids: What are the ages of Happy Crew participants?
Elise Neff: Happy Crew is for Douglas County High School students so that’s ages 14-18. But Happy Crew did just start a Tuesday night Middle Crew program for 7th and 8th graders!
Kars4Kids: Why is the Happy Crew important?
Elise Neff: Because suicide is the leading cause of death in youth aged 10-24.
Kars4Kids: Is suicide a little “contagious?” Does Happy Crew prevent suicide?
Elise Neff: There have been many conversations with students about the normalization of suicide and how the increase of it seems to lead others to believing suicide is a viable solution or option for them. Happy Crew has been witness to many students who are dealing with suicidal thoughts and helped them during this time, and offered other students the tools to handle situations with peers who are having suicidal thoughts.
Kars4Kids: Why are mental health issues stigmatized and why are they still stigmatized today, when we should know better?
Elise Neff: Awareness is increasing about mental health issues, but destigmatizing mental health goes deeper than awareness. Change is made through shared community and education. Awareness is great, but Happy Crew tried to build on this awareness by giving teens a place to connect with one another, share their experiences and emotions, and give them the tools to confront and react to mental health issues that they and their peers are dealing with.
Kars4Kids: What’s next for the Happy Crew?
Elise Neff: Happy Crew is in the process of launching Kākou, a coffee house, by and for high school students. We also want to continue to grow the Monday night program, and hope to also someday allow students to have their own space to host poetry or music nights, or whatever comes to mind!