On Thursday, Whitley County High School students Craig Hensley and Dania Esser spoke to over 700 viewers from all over the United States as part of the WhyTry Organization’s online “Resilience and Hope Summit.”
According to their official website, www.whytry.org, the WhyTry Organization’s programs “incorporate powerful tools that engage students with pictures, videos, media, hands-on activities, music, journals and more. All of these tools are used to teach critical social and emotional life skills in a way that students can understand and remember.”
Whitley County students are able to participate in WhyTry through the GEAR UP grant.
A description of the purpose behind Thursday’s webinar said, “As students struggle to adapt to the extended isolation of quarantine, mental health issues are on the rise and some at-risk students are falling through the cracks. How can we engage students online? How can we connect with kids who have gone missing? How can we help students weather the isolation of quarantine?”
Discussion was led by two “thought leaders” in Mr. Hasan Davis, Former Commissioner of Juvenile Justice for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and Christian Moore, LCSW, founder of the WhyTry Organization.
After some back-and-forth between Davis and Moore where they talked about the importance of keeping hope alive during this trying time, as well as offering up some helpful tips for how to do so, the two Whitley students were given the opportunity to share their stories.
Hensley is president of the senior class at WCHS. He is also active with UNITE Against Drugs and the Future Educators of America. He will be attending the University of the Cumberlands in the fall, where he plans on pursuing a double major in US History and English – Secondary Education.
When speaking about his experiences over the past few weeks, Hensley said, “It is difficult right now for all of us. This pandemic has affected us all, and for me, it has just brought me down so far. I have cried, I’ve done it all, but I also know that a brighter day is ahead.”
Hensley went on to describe the disappointment that he felt after planning a senior trip for him and his classmates, only to see it get cancelled because of coronavirus. He discussed the recent cancellation of events, such as prom and the traditional walk-through that sees senior Colonels visiting elementary and middle schools to walk the halls in cap and gown prior to graduation.
“Those are things that I looked forward to,” Hensley said. “They are milestones that I now may never get to have. I would love to have those moments, but we weren’t expecting a global pandemic.”
“I never got to say goodbye to so many people who were so important to me, and my life,” Hensley continued. “It’s been hard, but I just try to remain positive. I keep working, I keep trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. What I urge people to do, especially students, is to remember the blessings in life.”
Expanding on how a person can remain positive while dealing with such overwhelmingly negative circumstances, Hensley said, “In life we are surrounded by unexpected events. It’s easy to let the negative unexpected events bring us down and cause us to forget about all of the wonderful unexpected events that have brought us up. Please, just keep that positive reinforcement, and also keep a good support base. Remain in contact on social media, text them, call them. It’s so important to help keep people’s minds fresh and positive.”
Hensley encouraged everyone listening and watching to “keep the faith,” adding, “You are strong, and we can make it through this. I believe that hope means trusting in yourself, and trusting in the fact that things will get better. You can remain positive, but you can’t if you don’t have that feeling of hope inside of yourself.”
To close, Hensely quoted C.S. Lewis, who said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
Next was Esser’s opportunity to share her feelings. A junior at WCHS, she said, “I’ve gone through a lot of things. One of those things is being an immigrant. I came from Germany, moving over here when I was four years old. That means that I still have a lot of family over there like cousins, aunts, and my older brother is still over there. So, this pandemic makes it hard on people that have family, especially overseas. You wonder if they’re okay, and it can be hard to communicate because of the time difference.”
Esser also talked about her recent difficulties at work, saying, “I am still working in a restaurant, because that is essential, but my hours have been cut because we don’t have the business that we usually do. I also have a second job that I was laid off from, so I am having to draw unemployment, which I can’t receive because so many people are out of work right now. I don’t really have a lot of bills right now, but a lot of people do, so I’m sure that has been a big struggle for them.”
“This has been really tough,” Esser continued. “But I know that, even with everything that I’ve been through, and everything that everyone else has been through, it will all be fine eventually. This will all be over, and keeping that hope is the number one key.”
Before ending, Esser added, “I have always believed that you have to create your own meaning in life. I want to be in college, and I want to be in the medical field. That is what pushed me, and I know that, in order to do those things later in life, I am going to have to get through theses things that I’m going through right now. Life doesn’t get easier. You just have to get stronger, and more resilient.”
The full hour-long “Resilience and Hope Summit” webinar should be available soon at the whytry.org website, or on the organization’s official Facebook page. Additional resources can be found at resilienceguide.org and at hasandavis.com.