Cle Elum, Washington is a small community 90 minutes from Seattle, boasting only 1,872 residents as of the 2010 census.
In April, the community lost a freshman from Cle Elum-Roslyn High School when he made the forever decision to take his own life.
Youth motivational speaker and crisis intervention expert Jeff Yalden spent a full two days in the community last month, presenting to high school students, middle school students, and parents – and simply being available for those wanting him to lend an ear.
“I can’t even begin to tell you the amazing stories and conversations we’ve had,” he said. “You can’t even imagine – and through the toughest discussions and the tears, I looked at some of these kids and fell in love with them.”
He said he also loved to see how committed the staff members were to the welfare and well-being of the kids.
First, Yalden spent two hours with roughly 250 high school students.
From conversations with the young man’s friends, it became apparent that he told some of them what he intended to do, but the feeling was that he would not go through with it.
“And so here we are – talking about a young man who told people, and followed through,” he said.
We have to take all signs seriously, according to Yalden.
“Don’t put yourself in the position where you are going to make that decision whether [or not] they are just saying it. No. Young people are probably the most important people in saving one of their peer’s lives – whether it’s direct verbal clues, indirect verbal clues, behavioral clues or situational clues. You are the ones that hear about it first.”
Remember: See something, say something. Know something, do something.
“You have a responsibility to do the right thing,” he said. “suicide is the most preventable kind of death.”
Yalden hosted a parent program on the first evening of his visit, and although speaking to the parents in attendance and having conversations with them is always productive, there is always the sense that the ones that show up are not the ones Yalden needs to reach. The parents who show up are usually engaged and involved in their children’s lives already.
On day two of his visit, Yalden had an early-morning follow-up session with students and staff at Cle Elum-Roslyn High School before heading Walter Strom Middle School, where many of the students knew the young man.
“There was a lot of crisis going on at the middle school – a lot of hearts to touch, lives to change, hope to restore – and give these kids direction as they move forward,” he said.
For Yalden, it’s not just about speaking at assemblies and making presentations.
“When you hear about some of these obstacles and challenges that these kids are having and you can meet one-on-one – that’s when you do the work,” he said. “That’s when you challenge the kids to think deeper, to do better, to make decisions that they know they need to make – and be able to hold them accountable.”