Steven Osborn believes the best way to create a positive school culture is to simply be present. By this, he means being accessible to his peers and genuinely interested in their lives. Sources of Strength, a national program funded locally in part by Providence Health & Services Alaska, is helping Osborn and a growing group of Seward students just how to do that.
“I’m a very social and positive person and I like to spread that positivity,” says Osborn, 17 and a junior at Seward High. “Since Sources of Strength, I’m seeing a lot more bravery. I think Sources of Strength has really influenced that.”
Sources of Strength is a youth suicide-prevention project that engages peer groups within schools to spread positivity and eliminate traditional – and often unhealthy – social norms. For example, instead of assuming bullying is part of life, these kids encourage quiet change to eliminate it. Instead of shunning the student who might be acting out, they embrace them, letting them know they are not alone. The key to the program, says Seward-area Sources of Strength coordinator Andrew Scrivo, is empowering teen leaders.
“We’re what we call an upstream prevention model,” Scrivo says, referring to a graphic of a waterfall. “All these kids keep floating down the river, and instead of catching them when they fall, we want to go upstream and figure out why they’re jumping in.”
Providence provided $80,000 to help Sources of Strength operate at Seward High and Middle schools, engaging approximately 65 students and 15 adults. The program began in 2016 and, with yearly training, is gradually spreading throughout Seward. While the No. 1 mission is to prevent teen suicide, the larger goal is to create an overall healthier teen population. Scrivo says he envisions the day when the Sources of Strength mission is an everyday mindset.
“We try to spread messages of hope, health and strength in the school,” he says. When teens have others to help them in times of crisis, they may be less apt to consider dropping out of school, drinking, using drugs, or even suicide, he says.
Osborn says he’s already used the lessons he’s learned as a Sources of Strength leader to help his peers, including helping a friend through a difficult relationship.
“I said, ‘if you are in a healthy relationship they will want to do things for you, not you do things for them all the time,’ ” he says. “That’s definitely helped out my friend, and just being in Sources of Strength gives me the tools to help.”
In that instance, Scrivo says, Osborn was able to show his friend she had value beyond a relationship.
“We don't focus on the one-third of teens that are in violent relationships,” he says. “We focus on the 66 percent that are in healthy relationships.”
Though there are plenty of statistics to support the value of healthy teen interactions, Scrivo says the results of the Sources of Strength model can never be measured. After all, one doesn’t know what they’ve prevented, because fortunately, it never happens.
“All we want to do is have a group of core kids who are trained to be a little more perceptive and a little more empathetic and a little more kind,” he said. “Everything we do is about staying positive and just being there.”