Students don’t always need advice. Sometimes, they just need someone to listen. Frances Holk-Jones sympathizes with that need and has devoted her life to the cause.
Unfortunately, it was tribulation that led Jones down this road.
In October 1998, Jones’ daughter, Jennifer, took her own life. She was a sophomore and had just transferred from Bayside Academy to Foley High School. Still distressed and grieving the loss of their daughter, Jones and her late husband decided they wanted to help prevent this from happening to other students. As a result, The Jennifer Claire Moore Foundation was founded that same year.
“Words can’t describe the feeling of losing a child – it’s an experience no parent should ever have to face,” Jones said in a statement on the foundation’s Website. ” In the midst of our devastation, I knew there was still hope and wanted to make something positive out of this negative situation.”
When the JCMF was established in ‘98 it was intended for high school students and was only offered at Bayside Academy and Foley High School. Today, all 45 Baldwin County Public Schools, kindergarten through high school, have the Peer Helper Program.
The Peer Help program is supported by the foundation. The program trains students, peer helpers, to listen, but never give advice to their fellow students with problems. Problems can range from things like parental divorce, family sickness, self-esteem issues and even more serious issues like dropping out of school and suicide.
Meredith Foster, Principal of Daphne High School, is a big advocate of the program and understands just how beneficial peer helpers are.
“These kids take on the role of peer mediators and actually handle true conflicts among peers at school in a semi-formal environment,” Foster said. “They also are called upon to help when students are having difficulties socially, and they step in to be a friend to someone in need.”
“Students sometimes need other students more than they need an adult.”
Brittany Lassitter can attest to that.
During a visit to a local elementary school, Lassitter, who was a peer helper her junior and senior years at Foley, was struck by the realization that some students feel like no one is listening.
“We were at an elementary school with the peer helpers of Gulf Shores presenting a presentation on anti-bullying and holding an open forum afterwards,” Lassitter said. “After the presentation I had so many kids come and pour their hearts out to me. They were so sad and just thought no one would, or was, listening to them.”
Lassitter also recalled a time someone came to her dealing with the issue of abuse and suicide. She said it was because of her training that she was able to talk with her and get her some help.
Just a few years ago a Daphne student was killed in an automobile accident. Foster said the students wanted to conduct a memorial service for her on campus and entrusted the peer helpers to take the lead.
“They organized details and provided an opportunity for any students wanting to participate. It was important that this very emotional and special event be student-led. They did a beautiful job. It was one of the most poignant ceremonies many of us have been a part of.”
Last February the JMC partnered up with the National Association of Peer Program Professionals and held a national conference at the Grand Hotel, located in Point Clear, Ala. Jones said it was important to keep it local, but that didn’t discourage the people from out-of-town from joining in. There were people from New York, Arizona, California and more — over 150 coordinators, adults, who came for training in the Peer Helper program.
Students in Baldwin County are trained and supervised by professionals who adhere to the ethics and standards endorsed by the NAPPP. High School students take an accredited 17 week course in order to be part of the Peer Helper program, where they learn about listening and life lessons. A similar model is adapted for middle school children and younger and may considered a club or group.
Right now, Jones said some Mobile Public schools are starting to be trained in peer counseling. She also pointed to Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich who has become very active in the anti-bullying campaign, saying she has sent people to JCM regarding the discussion of bullying.
“I always felt there was a need for something like this (peer counseling),” Jones said. “Students can tell other students things. Sometimes the best of parents are still way down on the list.”
“I take great pride in turning Jennifer’s tragedy into a positive legacy of helping others. I wish the JCM had existed to help my daughter.”
For more information on the JCM, or how to get involved, you can visit www.jennifermoorefoundation.com.