Jeff Reflects on His Visit to Wawasee and Warsaw Indiana

The are some experiences in life that touch your heart and soul so deeply that it takes you a bit of time to even begin to process your thoughts. My visit to Indiana on January 31st and February 1st was one of these times. Over a single year, one community lost nine of its residents to suicide. During six particularly heartbreaking weeks, four teens from two neighboring high schools took their own lives. When you hear that staggering statistic, what is your first thought?

I know.  My thoughts exactly.

I’ll never forget the call.  I was saddened as if nothing else really mattered in my life.  I have nothing to complain about, but I remember the dark days where I was the one contemplating suicide.  I mean, it was then that I thought there was no reason to live.  Nothing to look forward to.

Don Harman, Principal of Wawasee High School in Syracuse initially contacted me and shared the news of their devastating losses. Soon thereafter, Troy Akers, Principal of nearby Warsaw Community High School, spoke with me about the tragedies at their high school as well. Together, they invited me to help heal hearts and inspire hope. I would spend 48 mesmerizing hours encouraging teens, teachers, parents, and a community left searching for answers.

Days before my assistant Kaylene and I arrived in Indiana, countless students began reaching out to me on Facebook and Twitter. They were clinging to their friends and desperately searching for an explanation. Some felt guilty, others were afraid and all felt an overwhelming sense of loss. After my visit there was a tremendous outpouring of positive posts and tweets as students, parents and teachers had a renewed sense of hope.

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With Wawasee Principal Don Harman

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Wawasee High School

My visits to Wawasee and Warsaw were nothing short of amazing!  The memories are deep and forever etched into my soul. The students, parents, faculty and community members were all incredibly welcoming and wonderful. I met and connected with many of the parents, siblings and friends of the teens who had tragically taken their own lives. I’m immensely honored to have had the opportunity to have shared my heart and my time with them.

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At the Warsaw Community High Varsity boys basketball game with Principal Troy Akers

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Warsaw Community High School

As a Teen Motivational Speaker, when I am asked to address the issues of Teen Suicide and Teen Depression, I immediately share that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem in the heart. Sometimes the pain is so severe that reaching out for help isn’t even a thought. As a society, we need to learn how to spot the red flags and warning signs and how to help teens cope with such indescribable heartache.  I am often asked to speak at different high school and middle school assemblies, student leadership conferences and events on a wide range of topics. Death and suicide isn’t one of the strongest messages I like to share; I mean, I like to help teens that are hurting and help them to move forward, but my message is about life, choices, respect, and responsibility.  After 20 years of  professionally speaking in the youth market, I can easily adjust my message to the needs of the client.

In this case, the need was to help this community come back together and to move forward.  I had to help the community understand what and how teens are thinking today.  The reality is that when Wawasee High School and Warsaw Community High School asked me to come and help them, we had a great talk about my objectives.  I couldn’t come in and bring the school further down in emotion.  As an outsider and a guest, I addressed the issue in a video before I arrived.  Then, my job was to come in and be one with the school, the teens, the community and give my heart to theirs, but ultimately, I had to let them know that we can’t change what has happened.  We can’t bring back lost lives, but we can move forward and we have to move forward.  Sometimes, it just takes an outsider to be compassionate and understanding, and to give them permission to move on.

Upon my return home, I received this incredible letter from Troy Akers. The knowledge that I helped to bring some healing to this community is truly one of the highlights of my Motivational Speaking career.

To whom it may concern:

Good day to you!  As the principal of Warsaw Community High School,  I’m taking a few moments to provide you with my full endorsement of Mr. Jeff Yalden as our Nation’s #1 Teen Motivational Speaker.  What you see is what you get!  This gentleman can simply connect with ALL students.  I know this to be true through the evidence received from my student body of 2,160 students in grades 9-12.   The evidence was provided through news breakouts, casual classroom conversations, newspaper reports, and most notably, social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.  Our students love Jeff Yalden!

Why would we need a motivational speaker?  We were recently named an Indiana Department of Education “A” school. We have facilities better than anyone could imagine.  Warsaw Community High School has a curriculum that is deep and rich.  We excel in the Fine Arts and Performing Arts.  We are also very proud of our service clubs and organizations.  Across the state, everyone knows of our outstanding Tiger athletics tradition.  However, something appeared to be missing.

You see, our students, staff, and the greater Warsaw community, has been rocked by a number of suicides in recent weeks.  Four victims were teens and one of the four was an outstanding young man from our senior class.  The unthinkable and unexplainable took place when he took his life two days after Christmas.  As the building leader, I knew our student body needed some sort of intervention or process for healing to begin.

As mentioned, our neighboring school districts had issues of their own.  Our happy-go lucky, beautiful county, known as the “Orthopedic Capital of the World” was being turned upside down.  All of the sudden Warsaw and Kosciusko County had become an area filled with unexpected, unprovoked darkness.  Something had to be done.  We needed something that would promote healthy thoughts from our young people.  Our students needed someone other than parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, or friends to make a profound statement to them that “it will be alright!” 

Needless to say, I was researching to find the right guest speaker to address our student body.   It was then that my colleague at a neighboring district called me.  He had unfortunately lost two students to suicide within the last six weeks.  He indicated that he knew of a speaker that could come in and restore hope into both communities.  At that time, I made a request to my Superintendent to allow us to partner with my colleague to bring Jeff Yalden in to speak. 

Jeff’s message, “Take Time to Think,” is not a message on teen suicide.  However, it is a message about life as a teenager and the struggles and choices our young people have each day.  Jeff gets down to the students level.  He doesn’t speak at them.  He speaks with them.  His talks inspire students of low ability, high ability, and those in between.  Likewise, he speaks to students from all levels of socioeconomic status and those of diversity.

Many things occurred within the three days Jeff and his assistant, Kaylene, spent in our community.  Hearts were opened, wounds exposed, and hearts were healed.  I cannot say enough about the impact that Jeff Yalden made on our student body and the community.  Twitter and Facebook pages are still exploding with positive remarks and comments about Jeff Yalden’s visit.  Jeff is also quick to point out that there are people here, within our high school, equipped with handling the emotional needs of any student. 

Jeff is very supportive of our teachers and the public education system.  He challenges students to make good decisions and to always stick to accomplishing the objective at hand rather than getting caught up with unachievable expectations and the disappointment that come with it.

If you are considering someone who can speak the language of today’s youth, then Jeff is your man.  If you want someone who is a “suit and tie guy” telling kids “don’t do this” or “don’t do that,” then that’s a different speaker, and some other convo.  Jeff’s a no nonsense guy with a powerful PG13 message.  Yes, some of his illustrations were a bit edgy; however that’s the beauty of the connection.  That’s what makes Jeff Yalden a “real guy” with a “real message.” 

In conclusion, many of my students have said that Jeff Yalden has made a permanent impression on their heart.  My friends, if that is so, there isn’t much more for me to say.  If one young person leaves a convocation feeling this way, then you can find the time, you can find the resources and you can make a difference for your students.  In my twenty seven years in education, I have never witnessed such a strong, positive student reaction to any convocation speaker’s message.  Jeff Yalden is the best! 

“Take Time to Think”

With gratitude,

Troy W. Akers

In the end, the visits to Indiana were memorable and life changing.  Now, it’s back to my usual messages “About Life”. When the next school calls asking me to come and speak, I will continue to ask, “What is your theme?  What are your objectives?” I guess this makes a professional speaker…one that can easily adapt to the needs of the client and ultimately give the message the teens need to hear. I am honored to have done this in Wawasee and Warsaw and I want them to know that they will forever be in my heart.

Here is a video message to Wawawee and Warsaw, sent with love from me to you…

Jeff Yalden is a professional youth motivational speaker and teen expert helping teens and families.  His message has been heard in all 50 states and to youth representing over 48 different countries.  To find out about Jeff and his message coming to your local high school, please visit www.JeffYalden.com or read Jeff’s blog at www. JeffYaldenBlog.com.

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Author:Jeff Yalden, Youth Motivational Speaker

Youth Motivational Speaker & Teen Life Coach. Since 1992, Jeff Yalden has been mesmerizing audiences with his engaging style and passion. Jeff is a story-teller that every where he speaks, he guarantees he is real and in the moment, perfect for every audience. He is one of a kind. He's interactive and nobody pours as much energy and passion into their programs that Jeff does. Guaranteed, Jeff will be a defining moment and a highlight of your students lives. www.JeffYalden.com

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