High schoolers, former MU student recognized at Suicide Prevention Conference

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | 11:11 p.m. CDT; updated 3:11 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 30, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY – Columbia high schoolers Haley Benson and Chandler Randol and former MU student John Bunten received awards Thursday night at the 2011 Show Me You Care About Suicide Prevention Conference in Jefferson City.

The 2011 Suicide Prevention Awards were presented at a banquet that ended a day of workshops and included a talk by featured keynote speaker Sally Spencer-Thomas. 

Other award recipients include Sara Strawhun, who won the Community Award, and Sharon Gorker Norris, who won the Survivor Award.

Haley Benson and Chandler Randol

Benson and Randol, both 15, were nominated by their ninth grade teacher, Chris Fischer at West Junior High School, for the work they did with the Columbia School Board to improve the mental health curriculum in the city's public schools.

The two started out with an extensive group project for a competition called Project Citizen that addressed bullying, suicide and depression among young people in the community.

The pair then decided to take their idea of monthly 50-minute classes on mental health to the school board.

The board listened.

“I never thought that people in high school could change the community’s views or policies,” Benson said. “We were almost half joking about going to the school board.”

In 2013, Columbia Public Schools will begin implementing the policy of 50-minute classes every month as part of the normal health class curriculum. Another possibility is making mental health the subject of required district writing assignments.

Other school districts in Missouri are also considering the program.

“It’s kind of crazy how it’s taken off,” Randol said.

At the ceremony, the pair thanked Fischer.

“Fischer pushed us hard because he’s good like that,” Randol said.

John Bunten

At the age of 19, John Bunten of Palmyra founded the nonprofit organization The Story of H.O.P.E., which stands for Hope Opening People’s Eyes. The organization aims to raise awareness and help those suffering from and affected by suicide and self-injury, Bunten said.

“I wanted an organization that could go out and speak to high schools and give really specific information about suicide prevention and resources,” he said.

Bunten graduated from high school in the spring of 2010 and attended MU in the fall.

On Sept. 2, he attempted suicide. By Feb. 1, he had founded The Story of H.O.P.E.

So far, the organization has put on a fundraiser called “Race for Hope,” a 5K fun run and walk in Palmyra. Bunten said the nonprofit is getting ready to hold a benefit concert this November in St. Louis.

The organization is also working to put together packets of information for high schools that would include posters, resource numbers and magnets for the school to display.

Bunten said receiving the award was very humbling. His sister, Lauren, nominated him.

“I feel like the award should have gone to the foundation and everyone behind the scenes. Not to me,” he said.

Bunten said he has not been able to officially speak to high schools yet because most schools require speakers to have a degree and be insured and bonded.

Bunten transferred to Moberly Area Community College for the upcoming school year but plans on returning to MU after that. His goal is to eventually receive a doctoral degree from MU.

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