U-Matter: Loss of lives inspires teens
BY ERIN BEN-MOCHE
OU News Bureau
Suicide is a devastating way to say goodbye. Members of West Bloomfield High School felt its impact when they lost three students and a teacher a year and a half ago.
The loss of the four individuals inspired seniors Josh Cooper and Ryan Ishbia to create the U-Matter campaign.
“We were blindsided from the multiple losses and it was the main motive for launching U-Matter,” Cooper said. “There was a lack of discussion about mental health, mental illness and suicide, and Ryan and I felt that a discussion needed to happen.”
They wanted to create a program that would promote healthy dialogue and alleviate the stigmas. The two students coordinated a weeklong program in November where the school would become an inclusive space for students, administration and members of the community.
With the help from school administrators, they organized ted talks where teachers shared different coping mechanisms to an auditorium filled with students. Ishbia said it was a successful way to bring students and teachers together.
“So many students and faculty feel alone and overwhelmed,” Cooper said. “U-Matter is a program that makes people feel OK to talk about heavy issues. U-Matter isn’t just for schools, it is for everyone in the community.”
They also brightened the mood around school with free giveaways and a club hallway decorating contest where the winning team won a grant for its student organization.
“We wanted this program to reach students while they were in school because school should always be a safe place,” Ishbia said. “We came up with events that could speak to everyone. It showed the basic premise of you matter, we all matter and we can get through it together.”
West Bloomfield High School Principal Pat Watson said the program had a positive impact on staff and students.
“They had put a tremendous amount of thought and planning into it,” Watson said. “Even today, you hear people still speaking about the event.”
U-Matter week sparked the conversation that the two seniors wanted. They knew they had to continue fueling it with the help of their adviser and friend Yarden Blumstein.
Blumstein is the head of teen engagement at the Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield, Michigan. He coordinates 500 student volunteers with individuals with special needs by providing recreational, social and educational programming.
Blumstein helped form the U-Matter campaign with the boys and helped launch the U-Matter board.
“The board was designed to help fellow teens with a concentration on suicide prevention,” Blumstein said. “These teens work on private projects to promote awareness and support when others need it the most.”
Blumstein is helping Cooper and Ishbia spread U-Matter weeks to five neighboring high schools in Oakland County. He also certified Cooper and Ishbia in Safe Talk.
Safe Talk is a course that helps students find warning signs of those thinking about suicide and demonstrates how to talk to someone who is struggling with it.
“Safe Talks are a crucial part of the discussion,” Cooper said. “This isn’t just a West Bloomfield issue or a Michigan issue, this a global epidemic and we need to start talking about the subject instead of sweeping it under the rug.”
Since November’s U-Matter week, Cooper and Ishbia have helped organize multiple guest speaker events at the Friendship Circle.
In February, highway safety patrol officer Kevin Briggs spoke to over 300 community members about his job of monitoring the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, where he has saved over 200 people from taking their lives.
In March, Heisman Trophy winner and former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams talked about his battle with social anxiety and offered tips on how to cope with it.
Although the boys will graduate from West Bloomfield in the spring, they don’t plan on leaving U-Matter behind. Blumstein is confident that Ishbia and Cooper will stay involved with U-Matter.
“They are both big thinkers and big innovators,” Blumstein said. “They are passionate about things that matter and work for things that have a purpose. They are a great team and it has been a privilege to see them grow and become the people they are today.”
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