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Gilbert High seniors form organization aimed at promoting mental health

By Kayla James

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    STORY COUNTY, Iowa (KCCI) — “Moving forward” is more than just a phrase to several Gilbert High seniors, pushing to make a social and positive change in their high school.

Weston Congdon, Ben Melody, Dalton Nelson, and Adelaide Searles are some of the founding members of Moving Forward. It’s an organization that’s completely student-led that they started last December, shortly after the death of Nolan Clewell, a classmate of theirs who died by suicide in November 2021.

“He would always be playing video games all the time,” said Dalton Nelson. “He would bring his switch to school.”

That year was the second straight year a Gilbert High student died by suicide. Henry Owens died in September 2020.

“I think after the first suicide – Henry Owens passed away – I think everybody did their best for a little bit and then they went back to the way they were because that was comfortable,” said Ben Melody, a senior at Gilbert High senior.

However, sometimes comfortable isn’t enough. It’s a fact that the Moving Forward team understands.

“We just didn’t want anything like that to happen again,” said Weston Congdon.

Now the Moving Forward team is working to ensure it never happens again.

Moving Forward is aimed at being a supportive organization for students’ mental health by connecting students together despite their age or cliques.

“We understand. We know what it’s like to go through that,” said Adelaide Searles. “We want to take that and help other people.”

March 2022 was when they had their first event: a movie night. Since then, a dozen other events have followed: a pool party, bonfires, holiday parties, and so much more.

Within each event, there are other activities and games that bring people together.

A fond memory for the group is the Friendsgiving event held at the school in November.

“People were pulling tables to be closer to each other,” said Searles. “It was the best thing we could’ve seen.”

The Moving Forward team is persistent in helping students make social connections; it’s been their passion since the beginning.

It’s something they’re succeeding in.

“Recently, we’ve had a group of freshmen who came to events and now they just eat lunch with a bunch of seniors,” said Congdon.

Moving Forward is about breaking down cliques so everyone feels connected; like they have someone who they can talk to.

It’s the team’s hope this goes a long way in making sure Gilbert High doesn’t lose a classmate to suicide again.

“I mean, if you don’t learn from others,” said Melody. “That’s a tragedy on its own. I honestly don’t think there’s anything like Moving Forward.”

The founding members say they know Moving Forward isn’t about them; it’s about the students in the school as a whole. Their hope is that younger students next year will take up the role of continuing on the Moving Forward mission. Anyone interested in joining Moving Forward can do so by reaching out here.

KCCI reached out Gilbert High’s principal, Cindy Bassett, who shared this message about how grateful and proud the school is:

“We are so proud of Moving Forward; it is inspiring kids at Gilbert High School and all around! This began as a group of kids that wanted to make sure everyone had a place and felt they belonged. It was extremely important to them that it was student driven so that kids saw it as something for peers, by peers. We’ve honored that because it’s important for kids to be empowered to take action.

“Moving Forward is really intentional on ensuring that the next group of leaders is already in place. It’s all about including as many students as they can and reaching out to as many kids as they can. They’ve made a difference for a lot of students and on our overall culture, and we can’t wait to see what they do next. The sky is the limit!”

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