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Serving Up Strength: Heritage volleyball plays game for mental health awareness

Heritage senior Courtney Kirkpatrick prepares to serve the ball in the Oct. 17 game against Woodgrove High School. Behind her, the student section wears Sources of Strength T-shirts in support of the game’s fundraiser for mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
High schools across the country have become known for fundraising volleyball games like Dig Pink for breast cancer awareness. This year, Heritage High School in Leesburg decided to do something new in response to the teen depression and suicide epidemic gripping the country.

Thus, the Serving Up Strength game was born. The Heritage Pride faced off against the Woodgrove Wolverines Tuesday. Heritage students and staff sold Serving Up Strength T-shirts designed by students and held a bake sale. Proceeds went to the county's Sources of Strength program, which aims to prevent youth suicide through positive messaging.

This year at Heritage, about 65 students have been trained in Sources of Strength. These students, along with students in the school's We Are All Human club, teamed up with school counseling staff to plan the event, school social worker Leslie Saunders said.

“The kids are really excited about it and enthusiastic about it and ready to go out there and do positive things and break that code of silence,” Saunders said.

Saunders said the group's goal is to continue training students in the eight strengths and to spread the positive messaging. Throughout the year, Heritage will also take part in different strength-based messaging campaigns, Saunders said.

“The whole goal of Sources of Strength is to do upstream, positive suicide prevention, so getting the kids to identify and tap into their strengths when things are going well for them,” Saunders said. “And using positive social norming and social networking, to get the kids to really get out there and be the ones changing the culture in their community and be sending the messages.”

In addition to the Sources of Strength shirt, bracelet and bake sale, community members also had a chance to purchase specialty bracelets in remembrance of Heritage student Sam Gustavus. Leesburg resident Diana Vincent was invited by the Sources of Strength program to sell the bracelets at the game.

Vincent and her son, Tanner, were close with Gustavus and his family through their participation Heritage sports and in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Proceeds from the bracelet sale went to a fund the Gustavus family is creating for the Heritage community.

Gustavus, 17, lost his life this past summer. Vincent said his loss was felt widely throughout the Heritage community, and it was important for students to be able to come together, talk about what they were feeling and help each other.

“I feel like as a high school community we all need to share in each others sorrows and in each others strengths and help each other during difficult times,” Vincent said. “We're just working together in the community to heal.”

The bracelets were designed by Leesburg resident Mary Bradford. The pewter beads spell Gustavus' first name in morse code, the wood beads represent his love of hiking and camping in the woods and the turquoise beads represent the ocean, which was Gustavus' favorite place to go each year.

Heritage students and staff could be seen sporting the bracelet and Sources of Strength T-shirts at the game. Heritage's student section was filled with the purple t-shirts as they cheered on the Varsity Volleyball team through their win against Woodgrove.

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