FLEMINGTON, NJ - On a Friday morning in December 1973, I awoke to horrible news – a longtime friend since high school, Jerry, had died the previous night in a car accident coming back from a hockey game. I was devastated and cried the entire weekend, sharing grief with neighborhood friends. Jerry was just 19.
That was the feeling that kept playing over and over in my mind, as I listened to teens from Hunterdon Central Regional High School share their stories of loss at Safe Harbor, the center run by Carol Dvoor. Safe Harbor’s mission is, “Supporting resilience and hope in the community by empowering individuals and families.”
“We’re an all-volunteer organization, and everything you see here is donated,” said Carol Dvoor, who is the director of the non-profit group on Main Street in Flemington. “We’re here seven days a week for teens to come over and be together.”
On the day I was there in late January, local teens were gathered to be together and express their thoughts and feelings about the recent tragic teen deaths, by suicide and accident.
Over the past year, several high school students took their own lives, and one died of a heartbreaking accident. Dvoor, a former special education teacher who has been trained in trauma, said, “The first tragedy that occurred at the high school (was) when the students started coming to me, saying ‘we want to be together.’"
Dvor said the students had been telling her that the high school has not been doing enough for students who have been impacted by the loss.
“It’s not an anomaly," she said. "We’re pretty much there, sadly, with the rest of the country. It’s been so much in a short period of time. After Ally, it was two years. We had another young man who died by suicide. And then another one soon after that.”
As I listened to the stories of the teens gathered at Safe Harbor, there was the feeling from the students that the school board and superintendent are not doing enough to help students.
“I have sat in on the class they have at Hunterdon Central, the philanthropy and leadership class," Dvoor said. "They know what their needs may be in high school. To be able to be together. To go as a group to the counseling office. They’re not being heard for their needs."
I spoke to a number of students who wanted to share their thoughts on the situation, but are being kept anonymous, out of respect for their privacy.
“I’m a senior at Hunterdon Central, and we’re the oldest," one said. "We’ve seen all the kids who have passed away and that’s so impactful. It’s not just one or two.”
“The act that Central has done is nothing," another said. "There hasn’t been an act. So I think a lot of us are coming from a place where there is a lot of anger in our emotions.”
“It’s not like we haven’t tried," said a third. "It’s not like we haven't tried to talk to every single person. An amazing guidance counselor has gotten into a lot of trouble even from holding a kid’s hand, comforting him."
“After Connor passed away, the school didn’t do anything to ensure that we were okay,” a fourth said.
“We asked to put a memorial in the playbill of the school play that was happening at the time, and then the entire cast supported it, the director support it, but when we asked the administration they were immediately like ‘no,’ and they really didn’t give much of a reason why,” another student said.
Safe Harbor is located at 171 Main St, Flemington, NJ 08822 and can be reached at 908-268-4284, 24 hours a day.
Editor's Disclaimer: All comments and views expressed by the students in the below podcast are their opinions and reflections only, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the school district itself or the work it is doing.
Podcast: Hunterdon Central Teens Share Stories Regarding Student Deaths