“Cassidy was the last person in the world you would think would consider taking her own life,” Hess said. “It still doesn’t make sense. To this day, I don’t know what happened. No school, no community, no family is immune: Suicide doesn’t discriminate.”
Hess founded Cassidy Joined for Hope Inc. in May 2016 with the hope of giving children the tools and training they need to be advocates for suicide prevention. The organization was first established as a student-led club called CAVS Joined for Hope—named for the school mascot—at College Park High School where Cassidy attended.
“We decided to create a club at school that’s a safe place where kids can talk openly about things like this and shine a light on such a dark topic,” Hess said. “Our main thing is to just get people talking to break the silence and to remove the stigma from [talking about] suicide.”
The organization has grown to include nearly 200 students at schools including CPHS, Oak Ridge High School, Concordia Lutheran High School, Lone Star College-Montgomery and Rouse High School, where Hess’ niece attends school in Leander.
Each student-led club has a faculty sponsor and meets on a monthly basis, where the students discuss a variety of topics, such as social media safety and identifying signs of at-risk teens. Each club has a student liaison who keeps Hess and her board updated on the club’s progress and needs from month-to-month.
Although no specific program has been selected by the board, Hess said they are vetting several programs with the goal of bringing accredited suicide prevention curriculum into the schools to help identify at-risk students and get them the help they need.
“We want to give these kids the tools they need to be advocates at the schools so they can look out for each other,” Hess said. “There’s just so many kids who slip through the cracks that aren’t identified [as at-risk teens],” she said. We want to get more of the community involved in what we’re doing because it takes a village.”
Through community donations, the foundation provides the clubs with awareness T-shirts, bracelets and speakers, and sponsors community awareness events throughout the year.
The nonprofit hosts an annual kickball tournament each September in honor of National Suicide Prevention Month and plans to host a special Christmas program at CPHS in December, which will benefit the organization’s programs.
The group is also a sponsor at the Out of the Darkness Walk on Feb. 17 in Town Green Park, where Hess will serve as a keynote speaker. Proceeds from the event benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The organization’s members are working to steadily grow its board, student club members and community involvement through more speaking and community awareness events.
Hess said in the future she hopes to see more schools implementing suicide prevention programs as well as anti-bullying and kindness programs for younger students, as it is never too early to teach children to look out for one another, she said.
“If it can happen to Cassidy, it can happen to anyone,” Hess said. “Cassidy was a beautiful light when she was alive, and she still is now that she’s gone. Knowing that her story is reaching other kids who feel lost like she did in that moment—bringing hope to kids who feel hopeless—that’s the best way I could honor her.”
Cassidy Joined for Hope Inc.
7 Switchbud Place, Stes. 192-526, The Woodlands