A student-led club at Westfield High School is raising awareness for mental health in an era where suicide is among the leading causes of death for teenagers.
In 2021, when WHS seniors Analiece Emigh, Zoe Milewski and Nora Flickinger were sophomores, they formed the Robbie’s Hope Club at the school. It’s a student club connected to Robbie’s Hope Foundation, which was founded by Kari Eckert, the mother of Robbie Eckert. Eckert was a 15-year-old Denver, Colo., resident who died by suicide in 2018.
The foundation’s mission is “That not so far in the future, teen suicide will be a rarity rather than a staggering statistic,” according to the Robbie’s Hope website.
Emigh and Milewski discovered Robbie’s Hope through social media and became ambassadors by their freshman year. Flickinger joined them that same year. As Robbie’s Hope ambassadors, they support its mission in many ways, including creating a mental health-focused group for teens.
At the beginning of their sophomore year, the three students realized that there was little to no community that involved conversations about mental health.
“There wasn’t a lot of discussion around mental health,” Flickinger said. “There were a lot of resources already in place in our community, but no one knew about them.”
Emigh said she and her friends wanted to build something that would allow those conversations to be made.
“All of us either know what it’s like to personally struggle with mental health or know someone who has struggled,” Emigh said. “We wanted to help in the stigma in our school and our community and let all students know they’re not alone.”
The club was formed in 2021 and has more than 70 members. The club’s mission is to raise awareness and remove the stigma about teen mental health. In the past couple of years, the club has worked to help their peers open up.
Flickinger said one of the ways the club has helped build community is through its monthly club meetings, where topics surrounding mental health and seasonal depression and how to cope with it are discussed.
“Not only how you can take care of yourself if you’re experiencing it, but how you can help your friends get the resources they need if they’re experiencing it,” Flickinger said.
Outside of school, Robbie’s Hope Club conducts events throughout the year, such as its Save a Life Walk to encourage the community to support the cause.
“That kind of let’s anyone who wants to to come, and we get together and walk as a community to raise awareness around suicide,” Emigh said.
The Robbie’s Hope Club’s biggest event is its annual gala in May during National Mental Health Awareness Month, according to Milewski. The gala is a catered event with interactive activities that give attendees the opportunity to learn about mental health and suicide prevention. Robbie’s Hope Foundation founder Kari Eckert makes a guest appearance each year, according to Emigh.
As seniors Emigh, Milewski and Nora have seen their school community become more connected.
“I think a lot more conversations are happening between students and students and students and adults,” said Emigh. “I think students are also more aware of not only resources they have in school but resources overall.
Meeting the First Lady
On Aug. 30, First Lady Jill Biden visited Westfield High School to speak about mental health awareness during a roundtable discussion with students and administrators. Robbie’s Hope Club gave her a private presentation about its mission in raising awareness.
Biden said she was touched by the club’s mission and the school’s overall sense of community.
“It’s not the policy or the legislative wins,” Biden said during the open discussion. “It’s this (student involvement).”
The presentation Robbie’s Hope Club gave to Biden involved a private discussion. The conversation made a big impact on club members like Elyse Menzel.
Menzel has been part of the club since it first started. She said speaking with Biden made her feel empowered and that teen stories are more important than people make them out to be.
“People aren’t generally interested in teen stories,” Menzel said. “Having someone listen so intently to me and all of my friends was a really good emotional experience. She was very human and very kind.”