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New club bridges Utah high schools after devastating suicide crisis

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Jolynne Ward isn’t your average hall monitor.

“I just feel like I’m a hall mom. I am a mom in the halls and the kids just started calling me Mama Jo,” she said.

As she roamed the halls at Bingham High School, she saw a need. She said, “I looked for the kids who were sitting in the corners and sitting alone.”

One student at Bingham High School, Spencer Riley, described how hard high school can be. “If you don’t have a friend group as soon as you get into high school, you are just scrambling,” he said.

Ward started the Golden Gate Club in 2016 — a pro-social group which encourages students to reach out to others.

The club members invite new friends to sit at the Golden Gate lunch table and make a pledge to be a true friend.

Students also pledge to tutor their peers who might be struggling in school, make eye contact with others and smile, invite their peers to school dances and other activities, and refrain from using illegal drugs and bullying.

Today the club reaches beyond the halls of Bingham High School.

Jolynne Ward started the Golden Gate Club at Bingham High School two years ago.

Ryan Cherry, a student at Herriman High School was looking for answers to help students at his own school. The Herriman community has lost eight teenagers to suicide since last summer.

When Cherry saw Bingham High’s success, he decided it was exactly what was needed at Herriman.

Ryan Cherry walks with his fellow members of the Golden Gate Club at Herriman High School.

Cherry meets up with the Bingham Golden Gate Club regularly to learn the ropes. As he entered the classroom last week, “Mama Jo”” greeted Cherry with a big high five and excitedly told her club members to make room for him at their table.

Cherry said when he started high school at Herriman High he didn’t have many friends and began to be bullied.

He said he had a choice to make.

“Was I going to transfer over to Bingham because of the problem, or was I going to face them head on and bring this to Herriman?” he said.

Cherry decided to stay to help his classmates who were experiencing the same thing he went through.

Ryan Cherry hosted Herriman High School’s first Golden Gate Club social this week. They plan to be official in the fall.

Now 160 students at Herriman High School have signed the Golden Gate pledge.

Cherry hosted their first club social last Tuesday.

Bingham’s Golden Gate Club President Savannah Suitter took Cherry under her wing. After attending their meetings and submitting the paperwork to the Herriman administration, Cherry said the club will be official at Herriman High next fall.

Suitter said, “It doesn’t matter that we’re in different schools. We’re just one big family.”

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