CLEVELAND — Students at a pair of Cleveland schools are now encouraged to open-up about struggles that could push them to their breaking point. Tough, often taboo conversations are taking place during the school day as part of a program for young girls that is helping save lives.
The program tackles trauma like physical, verbal and sexual abuse head on.
Dozens of Wade Park students, like Donisha Martin are getting the chance to bond and in the process, they’re building a support network.
The program gives the girls the ability to express their feelings in a safe space.
"No negative energy. I like myself more," said Martin.
Before connecting with Alive on Purpose, the 8th-grader said expressing herself wasn't the case, and she was feeling down.
"It's just life, I'm just here, I got to do what I got to do. But I'm here now for a reason," Martin said.
The founder of Alive on Purpose can relate to the struggles these girls endure when they walk the halls or when they go home for the day.
She's trying to spark life-saving conversations she says never really came to the surface.
“We're taught to pray it off. We're taught not to be so serious about it. We're taught not to seek help," said Latoyia Jones.
Unable to cope with the emotions from her own childhood, Jones attempted suicide twice.
"We know that life happens to every single girl in this world," Jones said.
However, the impact from those experiences isn't equal. The American Medical Association reports suicide rates for young black children are two times higher than their white counterparts.
"Our girls are really coming from a lot of single family households," said Jones.
For Jones, she's making sure the students receive the guidance she didn't, something which almost cost her everything.
"It's a family. It's a community of girls who are fighting to live, fighting to understand their stories, fighting to make peace with
themselves," Jones said.
Jones gets emotional thinking about her first group of girls that went through the program in 2014.
"They wanted to commit suicide, they didn't want to live anymore. Those same girls are mothers, those same girls are married. We have
one right now getting her graduate degree in Seattle. We have one that just finished her degree at Case," said Jones.
Those success stories are motivating Jones to get the Alive on Purpose program in every school, community center and church in Northeast Ohio.
"We're really looking for organizations to stand behind us to really help pave the way for other schools that can't afford it and other girls whose families can't provide services. Giving them the right tools that will ultimately save their lives and change them for the future," said Jones.