a community engagement initiative of Waverly Community Unit District #6
Rocked by the sudden loss of their friend and classmate, Jared Martin, to suicide in the summer of 2014, students of Harpeth High School in Kingston Springs, Tennessee immediately saw a need for change. Jared was just 17 years old, and heading into his senior year. Deb Martin, Jared’s mother, and Waverly alumna, shared how it all began. “A group of his friends reached out [to me] and said, ‘If it can happen to Jared, it can happen to [us]’,” she recalled.
By Erica Loos
“So I got together with the kids and asked them what they wanted to do.” Martin learned from the students that many kids don’t feel comfortable reaching out to their school offices due to concerns that what they say in the office may get out into their communities. “They said they wanted to create a club [for] anybody who wanted to join. […] They wanted to make sure that everybody in their school knew there was a place to go when they weren’t feeling like they had any place to go,” Martin said. These clubs were ultimately called “Keeper’s Clubs”, a way to honor Jared’s memory through his love of soccer, having played at the goalie position which is often referred to as “the keeper”.
Life has a way of bringing us full-circle, and that is certainly true for Deb Martin. She is currently back in the Waverly area, where she graduated high school, and she’s brought Jared’s Keepers with her in an effort to bring education and awareness to the students and community.
Martin was mindful from the beginning not to put the students in a position to take on too much at such a young age, but to simply help them to understand how to evaluate a situation “on a very basic scale.” The program involves teaching the Keepers Club students how to recognize the need for help in a fellow student so one of the adults in the program can reach out and offer the support and resources necessary. “It’s been very successful. Of course, you can never, ever evaluate how many lives you’ve saved. The ones we can evaluate are the ones we lose,” Martin said.
Martin is co-founder with Kelsey Neeley who, at the time, was only 16 years old. Neely was Jared’s best friend and spearheaded the initiative for change in schools among her peers. “They had a large group of friends, but [Neeley] was kind of the leader of the group and she’s the one that got the kids together and said, ‘We need to make a change’,” Martin said.After approaching her local high school and school district in search of a way to make positive changes, and hitting roadblocks, Neeley reached out for help from Martin. “I said, ‘Okay, the only place left to go is to the state level.’ And [Neeley] rounded up 19 students from her high school and they took off to the State Capitol, and in less than a year they got Jared’s Law passed in the state of Tennessee,” Martin explained.
Jared’s Law requires that all Tennessee schools have a prevention, intervention and postvention plan in place for their school districts. After the law’s passing, in a historic show of cooperation, the Jason Foundation, Jared’s Keepers Foundation, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network came together to ensure that mandates outlined in Jared’s Law would be implemented at no cost to the school districts. In addition to being privately funded, and staffed exclusively by volunteers, the Jared’s Keepers Foundation is an international foundation and is present on every continent. In the United States alone, Keepers Clubs are in more than 30 school districts full-time. “That’s something we’re very proud of,” said Martin, who serves as president of the organization to this day.
Life has a way of bringing us full-circle, and that is certainly true for Deb Martin. She is currently back in the Waverly area, where she graduated high school, and she’s brought Jared’s Keepers with her in an effort to bring education and awareness to the students and community. “It’s a beautiful place and the kids are wonderful,” Martin said. But she recognizes there is room for improvement within every community. One particular area Martin hopes to improve is the education of Waverly students in social-emotional learning. “We really push the students outside their comfort zones, if you will, on exploring emotions; […] why do you have them, […] how can you handle them, […] how can you empathize,” Martin explained.
Change may already be taking shape in Waverly. “We’ve worked with fifth-graders who are now sixth-graders […] and it’s just exciting to watch them grow and mature,” Martin said. But the icing on the cake is when the students share stories with her of how they’ve taken the skills they’ve learned and applied them at home. As our interview draws to a close, Deb speaks to the larger, connected importance of this influence a handful of thoughtful students put into motion years ago, “And I know things change outside of school as well, because when things change with those children, they have an influence on the older community members as well.”
Within the Waverly 6 District, these services have been funded through the Federal ESSER III Grant, with additional funding made available to the District through a Community Partnership Grant, in both cases, at no cost to the district budget. If you would like to provide financial support or learn more about Jared’s Keepers Foundation and the wonderful work they do, visit their website at jaredskeepers.com.
If you or someone you know is needs immediate intervention, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).