Crenshaw County students commit to life, love

Published 1:02 am Thursday, January 26, 2023

Editor’s note: This article discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The Crenshaw County School System launched the Love Like Lexie Project (LLL) on Jan. 12, beginning a series of assemblies for parents and students at each school and a study of curriculum providing students with hope, self-worth, and purpose while raising awareness of suicide.

The project’s mission is to empower students to be part of the solution, while helping give them the tools they need for navigating life’s challenges so that they can choose to live, love, and lead.

“It is a mother who tells her family’s story,” said Crenshaw County Schools Special Education Director Sherry Sport. “It’s a story of hope and love, to let another child who has struggles know they have a choice to live, you have a choice to love, you have a choice to lead. It’s an opportunity for students and adults in the room to declare their choice.”

Project founder Andrea Mills developed the program after her daughter, Lexie, took her own life on Feb. 6, 2019. As a registered clinical nurse, Mills wanted to understand why her daughter, a well-rounded high school senior involved in sports and her local church youth group, felt suicide was her best, and perhaps, only option.

“Our family believed the stigma that’s around suicide, that this happens to families or people that are giving their things away or struggling with mental health, or whose families are falling apart,” Mills said. “So, we never really talked about these things within our home. I didn’t think that I needed to. When this actually happened to our family, we were blindsided.

“I wanted to know why it happened, and I wanted to know what did she need in that moment that she did not have – like what could have saved her or helped her make a different decision?”

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among persons ages 10 to 34 and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, was the 10th-leading cause of death in the nation.

As Mills talked with her daughter’s friends, teachers, counselors, and other youths, she realized communities continued to lose youth.

After the death of another, and another, and yet another local student, Mills said she began seeking a way to help and at a meeting of community leaders, she shared her story and her findings and was asked to write up a plan.

“That’s where it basically started from,” Mills said. “It was the answer I received, the missing pieces that [Lexie] needed. It’s really life skills of how to walk through failures and mistakes, how to process those things, and understand your identity. 

“My daughter was an athlete, and I did not know that her identity was anchored to being an athlete and anchored in not failing. I realized that other parents and students needed to know that their identity, their worth, their significance, and the meaning of their life is not what they do. It’s who they are.”

Students at Highland Home School and Luverne School have attended LLL Project assemblies to hear Mills’ message of hope and consider a request for committing to life and loving others. Sport said the open conversations are yielding fruit already among students who are committing to choose life.

“We have seen that conversations are touching children on a deep, emotional level and that children are clearly displaying evidence of their commitment to choose life,” Sport said. “I think we’re seeing also through the emotional responses among all of us is a commitment to be there for each other, to support each other, and hold on to each other and build each other up.”

After the assembly, students have an opportunity to go through the project workbook. Written from Lexie’s perspective, the workbook includes what she needed to know —  having authentic community, creating community, protecting the heart, identifying values, choosing an inner circle, the influence of music on a person’s emotions, and the significance of life.

“The workbook helps youth truly understand and see that their life actually does matter,” Mills said.

Brantley School parents can attend a project assembly Thursday at 6 p.m. The student assembly will take place on Friday.

For more information, visit lovelikelexieproject.com.