“I started Hope4Winn after my son committed suicide in March of 2020,” Andrea Poisso told the Winnfield Rotary Club at its meeting on August 10, 2022. She and another local mother, Amanda Smith, formed the organization to help prevent suicides by teenagers and young adults in Winn Parish.
After her son’s passing, Ms. Poisso learned that her son, who had been treated for his mental health problems, had experienced symptoms of which she was unaware in the months before his death. She did a great deal of research on mental health problems and suicide awareness and prevention. She found that mental health issues are still not openly discussed by young people in our community and that we need to increase awareness of the risk of suicide by teenagers and young adults. Since that time, two other children in Winn Parish have been lost to suicide.
Andrea and Amanda Smith worked together to get a suicide survivor from Ascension Parish, Emma Benoit, to come to Winn Parish and speak to our students about mental health issues and suicide. Although Emma makes quite an impression on students during her appearances, they discovered during the school visits that very few students said they would tell someone and seek help if they were having problems.
This discovery prompted Andrea and Amanda to form Hope4Winn to help children here and reverse their tendency to try to handle their difficulties alone. As part of her mission, Andrea has given out her telephone number to youths and encouraged them to call her if they are having problems. She is also creating a support group for Winn Parish students, which will hold regular monthly meetings at Social Coffee House. Meetings will involve talk therapy, peer support and social opportunities for the youth in our community.
In the meantime, Ms. Poisso says, “Dozens of children have reached out to me, and I listen to them.” Some are reluctant, but she assures the kids that she will keep their confidence unless she believes the child is in danger. The objective of Hope4Winn is to create a safe place for kids to go with their problems. This can be one on one or in the group, but she hopes the group will provide peer support and social connections, which will help the children develop the ability to handle their problems and ask for help.
Hope4Winn has a Facebook page, and they are putting out flyers, seeking sponsors, and holding fundraisers to provide supplies for the monthly meetings. As the group develops, Hope4Winn will also provide activities for the group members to do together.
If anyone is interested in Emma Benoit’s outreach to at-risk youth, Andrea suggests you check out the documentary on her website called MyAscension.
As customary, the meeting was adjourned with Rotary’s motto, “Service above self!”