VARDEN-Students at the Western Wayne High School started out their day with a presentation about suicide prevention on Tuesday.

VARDEN-Students at the Western Wayne High School started out their day with a presentation about suicide prevention on Tuesday.

The program was part two of junior Ariel Hoherchak's senior project. The first part took place on Feb. 14, 2013, where she held the “One Love: Valentine's Day Dinner Buffet” at the Waymart Hotel.

These are in memory of her Godmother, Brenda Upright, who committed suicide on Feb. 13, 2011. She was a 1986 graduate of Western Wayne.

Upright suffered from depression, but self-medicated with alcohol “up until one year prior to her suicide.”

For the program at the high school, Hoherchak teamed up with the Lou Ruspi Jr. Foundation, which is run by State Representative Frank Farina's wife, Karla and her sister Teressa.

Christine DeSousa, MA, NCC, an affiliated therapist of the foundation, also took part.

About the foundation

The Lou Ruspi Jr. Foundation is a non-profit organization that deals with mental health and suicide prevention.

“Our main focus is to get education into schools on suicide prevention,” said Farina. “It was started about a year and a half ago.”

Farina said she started the foundation with her sister after losing their brother to suicide two days before Christmas in 2011.

He was only 26.

“The tragic impact it had made us realize we need to do something to get education out there,” she stated. “If it happened in our family and we weren't aware of it, someone else could be going through that in their family. We felt the schools would be a good place to start.”

She said students aren't learning how to take care of themselves mentally, where to go for help or what kind of resources they have access to if they are suffering.

Farina said the foundation has been amazing so far.

“Each time we present to a school we ask kids to reach out after,” she stated. “They want to ask questions and learn more to seek help.”

She said she has even seen some students get admitted to a hospital for 72 hour evaluation because they were suicidal.

“I think we have really helped a lot,” Farina said. “We've already presented at around 12 schools already.”

Farina said they keep pushing and want to talk at as many schools as possible and help as many as possible.

“The more we wait, the more lives can be taken by suicide,” she said.

She added the foundation “doesn't charge” to do presentations.

“Our main goal is to get the information out and help save lives,” Farina said.

The foundation offers free education nights to the community, provides schools with an American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) program, supplies a licensed and certified therapist to schools and offers guidance and resources.

Reaching out

Hoherchak's mom, Kelly, sent an email to Representative Farina in regards to his Suicide Prevention Bill that he is currently in the process of passing.

She thanked him for supporting the topic and said her family was struck by it because of their personal experience.

“He forwarded the email to me and I started speaking with them [Kelly and Ariel],” said Farina. “It was wonderful that a junior in high school is really trying to spread awareness. It was admirable that she's so young and so strong.”

Farina told them she would work with her foundation to bring an assembly to Western Wayne.

“We worked on it for about a month and a half,” she said. “We pulled off having a presentation with the whole high school. There were over 600 students.”


“Her [Brenda Upright] loss has been very painful for me and everyone that loved her,” Hoherchak told her peers.

“You will learn how to deal with depression, about the help you can get and how to prevent suicide. Please listen and if you or someone you know needs help, get it now so that you won't be victim to depression for years to come.”

Hoherchak said there's been many suicides at Western Wayne “over the last few years” and wants to try doing something about it.

“I want to try to let people know there's help out there and they can talk to someone so they won't feel alone,” she said.

Successful event

Hoherchak stated she received “a lot of good feedback” about the presentation that took place Tuesday.

“A lot of kids came to the counselor after and said they got a lot out of it,” she said. “A lot of them told me I did a good job.”

She added that one student even told her “it took a lot of courage” to stand up in front of the high school and tell her story.

“I could tell people understood and were paying attention,” Hoherchak said. “It feels great knowing everyone listened and paid attention. I think it helped a lot of people. I feel like I'm making a difference.”

Farina added she felt the program had an “overwhelming response.”

“The kids were really receptive to the program,” she said. “They were really respectful. You could hear a pin drop during the program. They were really engaged and interested in what we had to say.”

Farina added that Western Wayne made a pledge after the program for ending silence against mental health and the stigmas associated with it.

“We had a lot of students say thanks for the presentation and that they felt it was helpful,” she said. “Some even spoke to the therapist for guidance and others went to the school counselors. There was definitely an impact on the school and an impact on the students.”

Western Wayne High School Matt Barrett said they received a lot of positive feedback about the program.

“I think it was well received by the students,” he said. “There were some follow up questions and students talking to counselors for advice. Some teachers were also very complimentary of the content.”

Barrett added the content was “very relevant” and “targeted to the audience.”

“It wasn't over their heads and touched on a lot of topics the students are facing currently,” he stated. “We've had a couple situations in the past and had two suicides since last June that really hit the community very hard.

“They were some difficult times. Anything we can do to help kids avoid future situations like that is our goal.”

Barrett stated he was very pleased with the program and feels it's something “many students” don't want to discuss at times because they are afraid or are concerned with the stigmas that come along.

“This was an opportunity for them to reach out and get help they need,” he said.

Continuing on

What was thought to be a one time program has now turned into a yearly occurrence.

Farina said the Western Wayne Middle School Principal approached her, stating they wanted to do the program for the 7th and 8th grade.

“We'll be doing one before the end of the current school year,” she said.

Barrett added another high school student said they want to do the program as part of their senior project next year for the upcoming class.

“We are hoping to have the program back to reinforce what was said or to build upon it,” he said.

Farina said she was “very happy” to meet Hoherchak and her family.

“For her to be as strong as she was in front of 600 classmates and speak about that is very admirable,” she said. “I'm really happy to see that. Peers have a lot of influence on each other. To see how strong she is and how she wants to help people is pretty amazing.”

Barrett added the district has also worked with the Victims Intervention Program (VIP) through Wayne County Behavioral Health in getting a program in the classrooms that will “have a more targeted approach” to a small group setting or even on an individual basis.

Hoherchak will have an Out of the Darkness walk in May as the third part of her senior project.