West Bloomfield High School teacher Kevin Reed speaks during a Dec. 6 UMatter event at the school about a challenging time in his life when a friend was killed in a car accident.

West Bloomfield High School teacher Kevin Reed speaks during a Dec. 6 UMatter event at the school about a challenging time in his life when a friend was killed in a car accident.

Photo by Deb Jacques


UMatter program encourages students to seek help when needed

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 6, 2018

 Taylor Strobridge, a WBHS teacher, speaks about her best friend getting killed in a car accident while they were in college. The photo in the background is of Strobridge traveling and enjoying life again after grieving the loss. Her friend loved to travel, so Strobridge did so in her honor.

Taylor Strobridge, a WBHS teacher, speaks about her best friend getting killed in a car accident while they were in college. The photo in the background is of Strobridge traveling and enjoying life again after grieving the loss. Her friend loved to travel, so Strobridge did so in her honor.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 UMatter board member Amanda Patta, a WBHS senior, stands Dec. 6 at the school in front of a window with a positive message made by the Art Club in honor of UMatter Week.

UMatter board member Amanda Patta, a WBHS senior, stands Dec. 6 at the school in front of a window with a positive message made by the Art Club in honor of UMatter Week.

Photo by Deb Jacques

WEST BLOOMFIELD/WALLED LAKE — High school. Bullying. Social media. Homework. Stress.

Throw in some teenage angst, and that’s easily a recipe for depression.

But motivational speaker Jeremy Anderson wants teenagers to know that high school, if done right, can be a haven to those in need.

Anderson spoke to a full house Dec. 4 at West Bloomfield High School during UMatter Week, a program dedicated to teen empowerment and breaking down the stigmas of mental health challenges and suicide.

“How I’m feeling (matters), because I matter,” he said. “When we say ‘you matter,’ we’re not just saying your existence matters, but your thoughts, your feelings, your energy — what you are going to give this world matters. This world needs the best version of you.”

Friendship Circle’s UMatter program has been around for three years, helping teens deal with social anxiety and isolation.

The West Bloomfield-based nonprofit expanded its program to work with students at local high schools during the 2018-19 school year.

Friendship Circle of Michigan is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals with special needs through friendship and more.

Friendship Circle has teamed up with the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety to expand the program to host events in the Walled Lake Consolidated School District and the West Bloomfield School District.

The three Walled Lake high schools partnered with Friendship Circle to host UMatter Week Dec. 3-7 with different activities.

“Friendship Circle and Walled Lake Schools have collaborated together to build an authentic and meaningful experience for the students who attend high school in Walled Lake. The goal of both Friendship Circle and Walled Lake Schools is to listen to the students, parents and the community to ensure the best UMatter Week possible. When we work together to support the mental health of students, everyone benefits. Partnerships like these allow us to best use the available resources, improve program quality and reach our goal,” Sara Daniels, a social worker for Friendship Circle, said in a press release. “This is a platform for a culture shift within the Walled Lake high schools, it communicates to the school community that mental health is important, and it gives students a chance to build connections among one another.”

UMatter Week included therapy dogs, assemblies and artwork displays.

The Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety has provided the program with a $250,000 grant to use over five years.

The UMatter program helps teens via events and programming, all with the message that everyone truly matters.

In 2016, UMatter trained more than 300 individuals in suicide prevention and hosted a variety of events throughout the year that reached out to a few thousand people.

The Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety is a West Bloomfield-based nonprofit that helps educate people about social anxiety, its causes and how to deal with it. The nonprofit was founded after its namesake, Andrew Kukes, who took his own life as a result of extreme social anxiety.

During UMatter weeks, the group sponsors teacher TEDTalks, where teachers talk to their students on a personal level about their experiences, and hosts essay contests, hallway decoration contests and suicide prevention training sessions.

West Bloomfield High School Assistant Principal Eric Pace said this is the high school’s third year participating in the UMatter program.

“It has spread out a lot,” he said of school involvement. “Everyone has a struggle.”

Anderson, according to his website, www.jeremyanderson.org, faced many challenges growing up, ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to failure at school.

He has since received his high school diploma and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Today, Anderson owns several businesses, and he has authored seven books.

“Don’t let the jeans and shirt fool you,” he said, adding that he took authority over his life when he stopped blaming others and got help.

“You are not an island. If you need help, get help; if you need someone to talk to, find someone to talk to,” he said.

Pace said that the program is student-led, and teachers and students are able to share their stories.

Amanda Pattah, a WBHS senior, is a member of the school’s UMatter Committee, now in its third year.

The four-member committee helps plan events throughout the week.

She said that this is her first year being on the committee, and hearing Anderson speak helped her.

“I think he is great; he really connects to everyone in the audience — a message that everyone can relate to,” she said, adding that being on the committee is empowering too. “Not only am I able to help other people, but I can find ways to even improve myself to be able to help others.”

Anderson said he realized once that the grass on his lawn wasn’t growing. He learned that there was a layer of dead grass from previous years that had to be dug up.

“I realized all the fertilizers, all the nutrition wasn’t getting to the soil because it was getting blocked by the dead, toxic, negative grass,” he said.

People need to get rid of what is not growing in their lives, he said. “What we’re asking you to do is be more open, be more transparent, and we’re asking you to be intentional about getting the help you need … intentional in how you treat people.”

Anderson said some students having a hard time at home hope to escape that pain at school, but then they are hurt at school by bullying or something else.

“They are barely hanging on by a thread, and I am here to tell you all when you are intentional with what you say, with what you speak, you would be surprised at how far your words go,” he said. “We are going to be the school that speaks up for injustice … be a voice for the voiceless ... that will treat other people the way they want to  be treated.”

One student talked about having thoughts of suicide and sharing that on social media, but she said she is at a place now where giving up is not an option.

Anderson said that he can appreciate her standing with authority and sharing that. He said he is an advocate for life.

“Sometimes (it) can be rough, but (it is) better to do life with people,” he said.

Another student talked about the challenges of living with a brain injury from five years ago.

“Sometimes you feel like there are things you can’t do, but you are still here and you are still fighting,” Anderson said. “Keep fighting and keep pushing. … We’re going to keep up the fight together.”

For more information, go to www.friendshipcircle.org.