On Thursday, October 20, more than 1,000 Hope Squad members across North Texas attended the first ever Texas-Sized Hope Squad Conference to learn how to break the stigma of mental health and provide help and hope to their fellow students and communities. Collaborating for this important event was The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation in Fort Worth, Grant Halliburton Foundation and The Grace Loncar Foundation, all local nonprofits founded in memory of a loved one lost to suicide.

Hope Squad is a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program in which students are nominated by their peers and trained to watch for at-risk students, provide friendship, identify warning signs and seek help from adults. Hope Squad members strive to create a safe school environment, promote connectedness, support anti-bullying, encourage mental wellness, reduce mental health stigma and prevent substance misuse.

“Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-24 in Texas,” said Matt Vereecke, CEO of The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation. “We know that kids talk to other kids before they will talk to adults, and Hope Squad provides a safe and supportive space for students to connect their peers with trusted adults.”

Currently, there are about 180 Hope Squads in North Texas with another 40 to 50 squads forming this fall. However, Hope Squad members have little opportunity to connect with members from other schools around the state. This conference gives the opportunity to build a network of support while learning and collaborating with one another.

The Arlington ISD Center for the Visual and Performing Arts hosted more than 1,000 conference attendees from 58 campuses representing 21 districts and private schools across North Texas. Students were treated to a day of inspirational speakers, food, fun and connection.

Speakers included Dr. Greg Hudnall, founder of Hope Squad, and Mallory Fuller, Miss Texas 2021. Breakfast bites and recipe demonstrations were provided by Tarrant Area Food Bank’s RED Bus representing the food bank and Jordan Elizabeth Harris’ Hunger and Hope partnership. Attendees were also treated to a live concert by Jocelyn who was a recent contestant on NBC’s “American Song Contest” and has toured with Darius Rucker among others.

“I’m proud of these kids who are out there saving lives everyday just by being a friend,” Danielle Fitch, Hope Squad advisor and counselor at Carter Junior High School in Arlington ISD, said. “This conference is a way to give back to them and fill their cup.”

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