Meadville Tribune

April 6, 2013

Program helps teens deal with depression, suicide thoughts

By Mary Spicer
Meadville Tribune

SAEGERTOWN — “Aevidum.”

I see you. I care for you. I’ve got your back.

For Joe Vulopas and his 15-year-old son, J.J., who recently traveled from their home in Lancaster County to introduce both the word and concept of Aevidum to a group of students and educators gathered from Conneaut, Crawford Central, Jamestown, PENNCREST and Titusville school districts, Aevidum isn’t an ordinary word.

As Vulopas puts it, “It’s a movement, actually, created by a teen who, after losing her friend to suicide, wanted to inspire others to be there for their friends ... wanted to inspire her peers to have each others’ backs.” The word itself was formulated by the teen, who built it on Latin roots.

“Aevidum Empowered by Minding Your Mind” is the formal title of a student-driven, student empowerment program that got its start in 2003 when a student in Vulopas’ last-period English class walked out one apparently-normal Friday afternoon and never came back. As those who had known him reeled from the self-inflicted death, the movement was born.

In 2012, Aevidum became a program of Minding Your Mind, a Philadelphia-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating students, parents, teachers and school administrators about mental health issues by sponsoring school programs, supporting research and conducting an annual public forum. Now, finishing up a year-long leave of absence from Cocalico High School designed to put Aevidum on the national stage, Vulopas is currently serving as education director for Aevidum Empowered by Minding Your Mind. In March, he authored the cover story titled “Preventing Youth Suicide with Technology and Social Media” for Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s Child and Adolescent Service System Program newsletter.

During the day-long presentation at Saegertown Junior-Senior High School, local guidance counselors, teachers and administrators were joined in the afternoon by students from their schools, who were introduced to the fundamentals of the program.

While the program is rooted in helping students deal with depression and thoughts of suicide, its focus has expanded to include a list of 23 factors that can contribute to feelings of helplessness and being alone.

Because of the timing of the presentation, Vulopas suggested that the students use the remaining school year as an opportunity to organize an all-out introduction of the program in the fall — while dropping just a few teaser hints about what’s to come.

“We’re hearing that kids are just ready to run with it,” Brenda Kantz, PENNCREST’s coordinator of special programs and assessment, said Friday. “They’re hoping no one is standing in their way.”

Saegertown students, for example, have ordered T-shirts and a kickoff assembly is planned that will include sixth-graders from the nearby elementary school, who will be attending the 7th- to 12th-grade facility next year, when the program really gets going. In Saegertown, Kantz added, Aevidum is not being seen as being about suicide prevention. “It’s about getting your back.”

As they wait to see how the students who attended the session envision introducing the program into their individual schools — or not — PENNCREST Superintendent Connie Youngblood, Crawford Central Superintendent Charlie Heller and Conneaut Superintendent Jarrin Sperry are already in agreement that not talking about suicide is simply not acceptable.

PENNCREST, for example, is in the process of conducting faculty where people are coming in to discuss the Jason Foundation, which Youngblood describes as “the informational portion that will educate adults — including teachers and parents — on the latest research on suicide prevention.

“We felt that the Aevidum part of the conversation is student-centered and will be unique in each attendance area,” Youngblood explained. “However, there are best practices that we as adults need to be aware of. We need to get a definition around what’s best practice when dealing with kids and suicide prevention.”

For now, the Jason Foundation training is being presented to district employees during faculty meetings in April and May. “We wanted to be certain that our schools and faculty have information ready so when we move Jason into the community they’ll be able to field questions,” Youngblood said.

Once training is complete, decisions will be made about introducing the program into the community — probably during a public meeting in each attendance area.

Crawford Central and Conneaut are in earlier development stages. “We’re appreciative and thankful to PENNCREST for providing us with the opportunity to participate,” Heller said.

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Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at