Years of bullying can take a mental and emotional toll on the victim. For Cherokee junior Jessica Keller, she knew there had to be an answer to what she and others were experiencing. And she found that by creating You Are Never Alone.
YANA began as a Facebook page in 2011. It reached out to peers nationally to deal with bullying and depression issues. The page eventually evolved into an outreach in March at Cherokee, drawing students after school to cope with their concerns, officially becoming a club at Cherokee with approximately 40 members attending meetings.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing. We have so many different clubs and sports in a school as big as Cherokee,” said John McMichael, school counselor and YANA Club advisor. The club started late in the school year, after hitting some bumps in the road, so the club’s photo will not appear in the yearbook. Keller is already thinking ahead for the new school year.
“A lot of the people in the club are friends. Toward the end of the year we were getting people I didn’t even know,” Keller said.
The club has been fundraising to purchase rubber bracelets with a suicide hotline number on it. Her goal is to purchase 2,400, one bracelet for each student at Cherokee.
“We sold cookies and water in front of the building during SATs and the profits will go to making rubber bracelets,” Keller said.
Additionally, she hopes to place anti-bullying posters and signs throughout the school.
“I think next year is going to be much better. You can definitely tell this is a young group,” McMichael said. “Part of me being an advisor is teaching them the standard procedure for running a meeting and fundraisers. They have a whole lot ahead of them.”
The Facebook page is managed with Keller’s friend Tevin Mayo, a close friend and resident of California.
“I’ve always had an urge to help people and so does Tevin. This was our way of doing it,” Keller said.
Keller said her Facebook account is public, with a lot of online friends, making the outreach easier.
“It really grew with word of mouth,” Keller said.
According to Keller, when she and Mayo started the page, there wasn’t an inbox option, so people began writing on the wall, expressing their feelings and concerns of their situation.
“They now can inbox us and email us,” Keller said. “A lot of them have to do with bullying or they’re depressed and want to do self harm.
“We help them get through that.”
People who have visited the page return to see how Keller is doing, assisting her in her own situation.
“I’ve been bullied since I started kindergarten. Being able to help others helps me, too, because the advice I give others can help me in my situation,” Keller said. “Being able to get on YouTube and being able to personally speak with people helps me out of my shell.”
Keller and Mayo currently have a relationship with the band Friends of Emmett, which promotes YANA and vice versa.
“They’re a band that started in Ireland and do things mostly in California. We do a lot of promotional things together,” Keller said. “We have made YouTube videos together and their fans know what YANA is.”
In May, the Lenape Regional High School District Board of Education honored Keller for her work with YANA and her peers.
“Jessica, you show us what being an upstander is,” said Donna Charlesworth, Cherokee High School North principal.
Keller is also a member of the National Honor Society, an officer in the Gay Straight Alliance and a yearbook editor.
“I think next year’s going to be great,” McMichael said.
For more information on YANA, visit yanacampaign.com or like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YouAreNeverAlone.