SPRINGFIELD, NJ - At the UC Step Summit in December, the Union County Freeholders gave more than 200 county high school peer leaders, including peer leaders from Jonathan Dayton High School (JDHS), a civic engagement challenge: To come up with a countywide initiative to help spread awareness of and prevent teen suicide.

The students were then broken up into teams to brainstorm a campaign. Each team submitted their idea. And then the freeholders chose and supported the winning campaign.

This year’s winning campaign was the “Link Up for Life—5K,” which took place Saturday, April 13 at Oak Ridge Park in Clark. The goal of the campaign was split in two: first, the UC Step Summit attendees had to bring awareness and encourage prevention of suicide at their high schools.

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Peer Leaders then had to ask their fellow peers to write encouraging notes on links that were then created into a chain that was then linked up with other high schools’ chain and displayed at the race. The chain represents high school students’ support for those who are struggling.

Following that task, the UC Step attendees had to raise money for a nonprofit that helps with teen suicide. To do so, they sold chapstick and sunglasses provided by the UC Step Summit and asked their fellow students to sign up to run/walk the race for a small fee. All money raised was donated to Caring Contact, an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline and listening community based in Westfield.

Jonathan Dayton Peer Leaders did their part in bringing awareness to teen suicide at the high school by getting their fellow students to write notes on links, promoting the event during the daily announcements, and selling chapsticks and sunglasses.

“Suicide prevention is so significant because it is important to make a big impact and help those who are struggling," said Dayton junior Alyssa Calderon, who helped lead the Link Up for Life—5K Campaign at Jonathan Dayton. "A major part of the campaign is to have students in Jonathan Dayton write positive messages on links that we provided in order to represent support for those who are struggling. It is imperative to make the student body aware of the ways to prevent suicide.”

Other Springfield peer leaders who helped out with the campaign include juniors Spencer Gary, Becca Smith, Ashley Campos, Lilly Friedman, Victoria Delia and Jagger Kebea, and seniors Erica Carrie, Alex Wolz, Sammy Frank, Alexa Fishman and Rocky Mack.

Approximately 75 people showed up to walk or run at the Link Up for Life—5K. After the race, awards were given to the winners of the competition.

As for what comes next for the JDHS Peer Leaders, Calderon said the goal was to help bring positivity to the rest of the district.

"It is still in the works, but we are going to have an activity geared towards having students and
faculty write anonymous positive messages to each other," she said. "In June, we are hoping to go to FMG to run a program for the incoming freshmen about what to expect in Dayton and to be familiar faces during their transition as well."