- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - A web. A bridge. A helping hand.

These are the roles the Cook family envisions for their budding project: a peer-to-peer support system for children and teens battling depression and suicidal thoughts - and a place where young people can always find a friend.

Together, Craig Cook, Cate Cook and daughter Madison Uehara are working to create an organization called STAY, an acronym for “suicide touches all youths.” The group is currently based out of the Cooks’ home, and their headquarters is a room designated as “STAY central,” where members jot down ideas for goals and outreach.

“I wish that everybody could find a place where they don’t feel alone - together,” Maddie says in a written note.

Craig Cook said the concept for the organization grew from a combination of factors - the deaths of Laramie High School and University of Wyoming students in the past year, as well as the struggles of other young people in the community. The family wanted to find a way to help, he said.

“Kids don’t like to talk to adults,” he said. “And so if there’s a troubled adolescent and their only resource is some adult organization or school psychologist, they don’t engage with folks like that. So STAY became an organization where a troubled adolescent can talk to an adolescent that may have gone through or may still be going through the same thing.”

For Madison, an incoming LHS sophomore, suicide has been an incredibly personal struggle.

“I have lost two friends in the past year to suicide, and that’s been pretty hard,” she said. “But another issue is I nearly lost myself to it a few times.”

The family hopes to make STAY a strong community presence in time for the new school year. The organization already has a business license and is working on acquiring tax-exempt status; the next major step is creating a running website and establishing profiles on social media.

Several students have already expressed an interest in joining STAY, Cate Cook said. And while adults will provide some oversight, the organization should ultimately be run by the most affected group - the youth.

Volunteers will receive professional training on how to help their peers, Cate Cook said.

“It touches everybody, creates a bigger ripple effect,” she said. “And nobody knows what someone might be, if they had stayed.”

One of the main problems STAY plans to tackle is self-injury, which can often be a precursor to suicide, or suicidal thoughts.

“A huge problem is people glorifying suicide, cutting,” Madison said. “I think it started out as someone trying to make another person feel better, but now there is the horrible fact that anywhere you go on the Internet, you can probably find a picture of someone who thinks that cutting is attractive, when in reality, it’s really kind of a grim thing.”

Cate Cook’s biggest hope is that the organization will be inclusive to adolescents from all walks of life - a safe place where they can feel comfortable talking about the challenges they face.

“We want to make sure that STAY is accessible to all youth, not just the kids on the fringes,” she said. “Not just the jocks, or the 4-H-ers or the LGBTQ. There’s an understanding that we really want everyone to stay.”

Because asking for help can be an intimidating prospect, Madison plans to design youth-friendly pamphlets that resemble notes students might pass in class. Inside, the notes would contain a message of encouragement; on the back, they’d list information about STAY and other helpful resources such as suicide hotlines. Ideally, the notes would be readily available at schools and places like coffee shops, Madison said.

“We want it available for pretty much anyone to grab, whether they’re reading it for themselves or giving it to a friend,” she said.

As the organization gets off the ground, Madison said, she’ll be available to talk to any young person in need of help, whether through Facebook, texting, phone calls or face-to-face conversations.

“STAY will be a hand reached out that anyone can grab,” she said.


Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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