Student-run group in Pequot Lakes focuses on student mental health
The group strives to improve the mental health of the student body
PEQUOT LAKES — Sometimes, all a person needs is someone to talk to.
That was the thought behind a student group that recently formed in Pequot Lakes called REEL North Alliance.
The group initially began in the school district using the name of an established student-led mental health organization, The Lighthouse Project, but has since transitioned to its current moniker.
“It stands for ‘Revealing Emotions and Elevating Lives,’” Pequot Lakes senior Brea Eckes said. “The ‘REEL’ is kind of a tribute to Jack Hennies — like a fishing reel. We're still going to be doing the same types of things … We are more of a school club so we decided to transition to this name, but we're still going to be doing joint events and we look forward to working with them and everything.”
Hennies, a Pequot Lakes High School graduate who loved to fish, took his own life in early 2022 at age 19.
We know a lot of teens are more likely to go to a peer than an adult, so we just want to make sure that everyone is equipped with the right resources.
REEL North Alliance is completely student-run and strives to improve the mental health of the student body of Pequot Lakes High School.
“Our main goal is promoting positivity with mental health and destigmatizing mental health, because a lot of people might have a negative attitude towards it, maybe because they don't understand,” Pequot Lakes senior Quinn Trottier said. “Our goal is advocating for mental health, spreading awareness and spreading education.”
Trottier and Eckes, who currently serves as the club’s defacto co-presidents, said the need for a club focusing on mental health became apparent after Hennies’ death.
“A lot of students weren't aware of the resources we had,” Eckes said. “We knew that Brainerd had started the Lighthouse Project, so we reached out to them and they were super helpful with getting us started. We had a lot of different events with them.”
There are 11 students on the club’s board, but 20 to 30 usually attend the monthly meetings. Some are there to help, while others may be there seeking help.
“We broadcast the message to anyone,” Trottier said. “It can be from anything to just wanting to learn what mental health is, or it can be, ‘I'm looking for help and this is a resource that's available to me.’ At every meeting, we have them fill out exit tickets, so they can check a box that says, ‘yes, I would love for a REEL North Alliance board member to reach out,’ and then we have a confidential way of reaching out to them and checking in if they need help.”
Though the club is completely operated by students, school staff and administrators seem to have given it their full support. REEL North Alliance has even taken steps to help teachers assess a student’s mental health needs.
“We have seen great support from our teachers, staff, the student body — everything has been very positive,” Eckes said. “We are releasing another training for teachers to take, so they can be certified mental health specialists as well.”
In its brief time within the district, students have grown more and more aware of the group’s presence. Trottier presented to the Pequot Lakes School Board in December. Of course, the group has a social media presence and they are coming out with REEL North Alliance merchandise, but most of their influence has so far been simply by word of mouth.
“It has really grown,” Trottier said. “We really just kind of preach being a resource to students and also help students help their friends. We know a lot of teens are more likely to go to a peer than an adult, so we just want to make sure that everyone is equipped with the right resources.”
They have operated or helped with a number of events, including Jack's Big Bass Bash Fishing Tournament last August or its now yearly high school volleyball tournament, which makes its return Friday, March 31.
We have seen great support from our teachers, staff, the student body — everything has been very positive.
The inaugural 50-boat fishing tournament, auction and donations at the event in Crosslake raised over $18,000 for suicide awareness in schools and the community in honor of Hennies.
“We did (the volleyball tournament) last year, and kids asked if we could do it every Friday night,” Trottier said. “We raised a lot of money to donate to Northern Pines (Mental Health Center in Brainerd) for free counseling sessions.”
In fact, everything the group does goes toward promoting mental health in some way. The group’s presence is felt just at the high school level for now, but presentations have been done for the middle school students and staff as well.
REEL North Alliance seems prepared to help students for years to come. Trottier and Eckes said the group’s underclassmen are more than ready to help in 2024 and beyond.
“We have a strong group of kids that are on our executive board, and everyone is thoroughly prepared to take on our role,” Eckes said. “I think that we see it being very successful in the future, hopefully expanding to even more of the student body.”
Dan Determan, sports writer/staff writer, may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan .