Two years after back-to-back tragedies at Jonathan Alder High School, one community group’s efforts to combat suicide have flourished into a support network for the entire Plain City community.
The Jonathan Alder Community Support Network, or JA-CSC, was founded by religious, medical and other community leaders in early February 2015 after two high school students committed suicide.
“It was really the Superintendent [Gary Chapman’s] goal to get the key stakeholders of our community involved,” said Shawn Heimlich, the district’s director of student services. “In the beginning, we really focused on how we’re taking take of kids in our community, we looked at how to work with churches, community groups to keep kids busy and keep an eye on them.”
To help focus its efforts, the JA-CSC put out a survey in the fall of 2015 to various stakeholders. The survey revealed that 70 percent of the Jonathan Alder community felt there weren’t enough mental health services available or promoted within the district.
“Efforts are currently underway to explore how to develop resources where there are gaps,” said Tracey Stute of the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties.
One of these efforts by Alder schools was hiring JoLynn Wheatley as a student support specialist.
Wheatley joined the staff in August and has been promoting and streamlining services for the school, essentially connecting the dots between what services individuals need and where they are available in the community.
Heimlich said he’s noticed more teachers referring students for guidance, along with students themselves getting basic help when they’re struggling with personal issues.
Wheatley has also compiled a community resource guide, which contains contact information and a description of services available.
Additionally, she supervises three interns from Ohio State’s social work program. The interns work on different shifts during the week, organizing social and life skills groups for students in need of help, as well as directing mental health services.
The interns aid different schools within the district with their own mental health service goals. They will continue to work until the end of the school year this summer.
While Wheatley’s position is heavily involved with mental health access, it has evolved into helping Plain City’s impoverished as well.
“One of her roles is being an advocate for people who may not be aware of what resources are out there,” said Heimlich. “She helps bridge that gap by providing that advocacy and following up with agencies that can help.”
She helped a homeless family navigate through the hoops of finding shelter and many more families get around transportation issues, which can prevent people from accessing a plethora of services.
“What started as the short-term task of providing better mental health services has become a long term task of improving our community,” said Heimlich.
In the future, they hope to have a community therapist available at the high school to help anyone in Plain City.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.