Program hopes to revamp suicide awareness and education

By Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – The suicide of a Henrico teenager this past weekend is hitting close to home for one local family who has already lived through that nightmare.  Now, they're taking steps to prevent such tragedies.  The initiative is called "hold hope." Family and friends of a Henrico boy, who took his own life last year, are hoping to get a $50,000 grant to create an awareness and prevention program starting in Freeman High School. They say suicide is a silent crisis that needs to be exposed.

Stuart Slusher was a good kid. He was an athlete and a member of the National Honor Society. At the age of 17, Stuart Slusher took his own life. It's a reality that shocked his father Mark.

"We could not find anybody who could sense that Stuart was in a depression or was considering suicide," said Slusher. "I think it really made everyone feel if it could happen to Stuart, it could happen to anybody."

Last year three teens in our area took their own lives; the year before that another three.  Stuart's childhood friend Steven Ebert thinks that's six too many. So, he's applying for the Pepsi Refresh grant, which gives money to ideas with a positive impact.

His idea, the "hold hope initiative," would revamp suicide awareness and prevention programs in schools, starting at Freeman High. It will update and supplement materials for students and teachers. Henrico County Public Schools told us right now, faculty get training as part of the crisis plan and students discuss the issue in their health class.

Ebert started a Facebook page to get support for the initiative and in about a week it has almost 5,000 members. He said it seems to be a message people need to hear.

"There's always hope. Whether you're a student holding onto hope or whether you're a family member of someone you always should hold hope," said Ebert.

He plans to submit the idea to Pepsi on April 1st. If accepted, voting will be open to the public on May 1st. They need support to get the grant. You can follow the group's progress on the Facebook page.

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