At the 2019 Keystone Conference, we met the teens from the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam Youth Center in Hawai’i, and learned about their Project Crane. To say we were moved is an understatement, and today I’m absolutely honored to bring you their story, written by the teens themselves.
An origami paper crane flapped its wings and flew out of the confines of the mental hospital it was folded in; upon those wings, words of thanks and encouragement danced across the creases. What had begun as the simple employment of a coping skill by one of our teens who had found herself at a very low point in her life, soon evolved into something much more.
Today, teen suicide and suicidal ideation is on the rise: the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that between 2008 and 2015, there were over 110,000 teenagers hospitalized for a suicide attempt or having serious and dangerous thoughts on doing just that. Unfortunately, members of our BGCA community have not been spared. A member of our Keystone Club found herself in need of more intensive intervention, and was placed under acute adolescent care at a local psychiatric facility.
The goal of such a facility, in that course of treatment, is to do whatever it takes to keep the child safe. This often results in teens finding themselves with a lot of free time to work on themselves, and to learn how to cope more effectively in the future. The coping skill of our teen’s choice was origami, and after being inspired by the peace that Sadako’s 1000 Paper Cranes project fostered in the aftermath of World War II, the very first member of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam’s Project Crane was created.
Project Crane is more than just our Boys and Girls Club’s response to the emotional wellness national project prompt: it is how we communicate on the subjects often too hard to talk about, how we motivate and protect each other, and how we choose to advocate for those that need to improve their mental health – in other words, everyone.
Project Crane works like this – after being introduced to the project by our Project Crane leaders in Keystone, you learn how to fold a paper crane. Then, on one wing, you write an uplifting or encouraging message. Past examples include phrases like “keep writing your story”, or “today is better with you in it”, or even “drink some water and get some rest – your body will thank you!”. On the other wing, we usually include the name of our center – JBPHH Teen Center – so those that receive the cranes know that they have an entire Boys and Girls Club in the middle of the Pacific Ocean cheering them on. Then, the crane is put into one of our many Crane baskets which are taken to local hospitals, schools, and community service events.
At our center, Project Crane has also been the face for many different activities for teens centered around becoming more emotionally and mentally healthy. In a seven part interactive presentation series spanning several months, our Keystone provided their peers with resources and information on Spreading Positivity, Coping Skills, Communication, Meditation and Group Discussion, and more. We have partnered with local military organizations such as the Military Family Support Center (MFSC), our Green Dot chapter, a program that trains soldiers on base and teens and children to not be a bystander to assault, bullying, or suicide, and Hawai’i’s National Alliance on Mental Illness affiliate. Whenever we can shed a little light on those who may be living in the dark parts of their minds, we jump at the opportunity to do so.
Many of us behind Project Crane believe that it might not have been as successful had it not been fostered as it had at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam Teen Center. Described as a “home base and a safe space,” our Club has been touching the lives of military dependent teens for the past couple of decades. We have the unique opportunity of being stationed not only on a military base, but on a joint one – both Navy and Air Force dependents have quick access to the array of resources we provide. Located in the crux of Salt Lake, Honolulu, we also have many Army and Marine Corps kids come in from the nearby bases. Our center is determined to have open arms for all military teens.
But Project Crane isn’t the only thing we do. Teen leaders, such as Keystone, are empowered to shape the schedule at our teen center. We have Art, Gardening, Woodworking, SMART Girls, Cooking, Money Matters, Bug, and Healthy Habits. We also have frequent video game tournaments, sports games, field trips, guest speakers, Club-wide community service opportunities, and so much more.
Even when our teens aren’t busy participating in any of the aforementioned activities, we always interact and find that safe space amongst each other. Thus, why Project Crane was able to flourish so exceptionally well. Everyone here has some connection to mental health, emotional wellness, or a drive to help others, and every resource provided at our Club helps to encourage that, especially our staff. The staff at our Club work tirelessly to ensure that we are comfortable and understand that we are in a safe space. A safe space that allows us to explore our thoughts and follow our passions to unlock our potential. They believe in us and that belief and encouragement inspires us to make the biggest impact in our community as possible.
Project Crane has allowed us to impact those in our direct community as well as beyond our base walls. It has inspired, encouraged, touched, lifted spirits, brought joy, and most importantly, showed our community that emotional wellness is important and shouldn’t be overlooked. It has been an invaluable experience watching this project grown and develop and as a Keystone, as a teen, as an ambassador for emotional wellness, we encourage you to find your way to bring positivity and joy into your community.
Get more information on what afterschool can do to prevent youth suicide here, and get tips on how to have difficult conversations with youth about mental health here.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to a counselor at any time.
We extend special thanks to the JBPHH teens and their Teen Director Zach.