Green Bandana Project suicide prevention initiative launches at MFL MarMac

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The Green Bandana Project, a program dedicated to the prevention of suicide through education and student-to-student contact, is now active at MFL MarMac High School. Participants include (front, left to right) Brooke Donlon, Makenzie Bark, Ruby Koeller; (back) April Upton, Karlie Hagensick, Jacob Schellhorn and Hailea Pritchard. Not pictured is Ariana Fish. (Submitted photo)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The Green Bandana Project, a program dedicated to the prevention of suicide through education and student-to-student contact, is now active at MFL MarMac High School. 


Eight students—all members of the school’s Students Opposed to Drugs and Alcohol (SODA) group and selected through an application process—are launching the initiative with help from SODA advisor and MFL MarMac student advocate Jackie McGeough as well as mental health specialist Jessica Goltz and Ashley Havenstrite from Helping Services for Youth & Families.


McGeough said SODA was introduced to the Green Bandana Project during a Day on the Hill visit to the state capitol a couple years ago.


“We heard another school had it,” she explained. “One of our officers wanted to get it going last school year, and it just took a lot of time. We finally got it implemented this year.”


The project is a good fit for SODA, said student Makenzie Bark, because the group has long advocated seeking help outside substance use.


“We can show students there are other ways to go about finding help instead of using alcohol or drugs,” she said.


SODA also inspires a sense of community, added Ruby Koeller.


“Unlike a sport where you all have your own values, it’s like we all have one. It’s a certain kind of safety. There’s vulnerability in this group that I think transfers over well into the Green Bandana Project,” she said.


Now part of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), Green Bandana was originally inspired by “Dan’s Bandana Project,” an initiative developed on the University of Wisconsin-River Falls campus in 2014 by Dr. Betsy Gerbec, who lost her son Daniel to suicide two years earlier.


“The green bandana was an accessory he wore all the time,” said Koeller. “She had that become a symbol after she lost her son, which I think is really powerful, that she could turn something like that into a positive thing.”


After a short orientation and basic suicide prevention training, student participants can proudly attach or display a green bandana on their backpack, bag or person to signify they have pledged to be a safe individual to approach for mental health and suicide prevention information and resources.


This included QPR training—which stands for question, persuade and refer—with Goltz.


“We were told how it can help and how you can help others reach out for help if they don’t feel safe talking to an adult,” said participant Ariana Fish.


Each student has their own reasons for participating. Schellhorn felt it would complement his EMT training, while Fish felt it would aid her career plans to become a child therapist.


“I thought this would help me understand more what it’s like and help me figure out if it’s something I really want to go into. I like to help people because not everyone has an easy life. When I was younger, I struggled a lot and had to talk to a therapist, and that’s what kind of inspired me,” she shared.


Bark has personally felt the impact of suicide, after losing an uncle two years ago, and Koeller has witnessed her sister’s mental health struggles.


“It’s affected my whole family,” Koeller said. “In the process, I’ve gotten really familiar with a lot of DHS workers, mental health workers, therapists. You see the background and it kind of deters that whole stigma. It feels less taboo to talk about. I would be not only glad but proud to talk to somebody else who’s struggling. I know it can hurt. I’ve seen it firsthand.”


April Upton simply wants to be a person others can talk to.


“This helped me learn more about what people could be struggling with and what to expect from it and what they might want to expect from it. It’s a good way to help others when they’re too scared to reach out to someone,” she said. “There are people here who you wouldn’t even think would have problems. How easy they can hide how they really feel, that kind of surprised me. I would have never guessed it.”


As fellow students, Green Bandana participants feel peers might be more comfortable reaching out to them than an adult.


“I think we can relate better. It’s more conversational than talking to a teacher,” said Schellhorn. “They know they can talk to someone and can get help. We can give it to somebody who can really take care of it—take it to Jackie or Jessica Goltz or [guidance counselor] Ms. Berns.” 


“The relatability aspect is really big,” agreed Koeller. “I think it will have long-term effects, even after all of us are graduated.”


With the Green Bandana Project still in its infancy at MFL MarMac, the participants said they’ve yet to be approached by a student in need. But they’re available, especially with the loss of several young people in the area in recent months.


Part of their efforts, according to Koeller, include letting others know it’s OK to not be OK.


“It takes strength to come out and say, ‘I need help,’” she said. “We are so lucky to have been selected to be the people who are there to go to. It’s not rare. We all personally have struggled. I think everybody has. ‘It’s OK not to be OK’ is our biggest message.”


More students will be recruited to the Green Bandana Project in April, since some participants will be graduating. McGeough said the initiative is also in universities and colleges across the country, so students could continue participating after leaving MFL MarMac.


The current group hopes others will find joining the cause worthwhile.


“It’s important and might make you feel better to know that someone might open up to you and you might know how to better help them. It could help you help them with what they’re going through and getting them where they need to go,” Fish said.


Watching the students embrace this initiative has been emotional for McGeough. She’s proud of them all for stepping outside their comfort zones to be a safe person for someone else.


“That is huge,” she said. “They each have a passion for helping others, and I can’t thank them enough for wanting to do this at our school. We wouldn’t be able to do it if we didn’t have those stepping forward, wanting to be part of it.”


Learn more at or The 988 suicide and crisis lifeline is available 24/7, offering free and confidential support. Call or text 988 or visit

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