“Lives are going to change today,” was the first thing teen and youth motivational speaker Jeff Yalden said to an auditorium filled with Hiawatha and Horton high schools and middle school students this past Monday morning. Students who were expecting a boring speaker to take up class time were proven wrong in the address that followed.

Yalden spoke to students as part of KJ’s 2nd Annual “I Believe” Fight Against Suicide. He helped to make it a success again and it is hoped for that he will return next year to speak again.

Yalden spent the hour and a half sharing personal experiences he has had throughout his life dealing with depression, suicide, mental illness and dysfunctional home lives. Some of which came from what he has gone through and how he has dealt with it. He shared stories about his own nephews and what they have been put through and also how teenagers today feel about themselves and the world around them.

“Jeff brought a much needed sense of strength to our school,” said STUCO President Bailey Saul, who, along with Horton Senior Class President Daryan Small, introduced Yalden to the packed auditorium. “I think we really needed to hear what he had to say and I am glad we were fortunate enough to have had him come share his message.”

Social media was a main concern for Yalden. He shared his views that teenagers today spend “24/7 glued to their social media” with the idea in their heads that this is what gives them their worth. Yalden said that, rather than constant validation kids need three things: more sleep, better nutrition and exercise.

“How many of you have goals and dreams?” Yalden asked the crowd. After a majority show of hands he continued. “Okay, now how many of you have those goals and dreams written down?” Many hands in the crowd dropped. The point he was trying to make was that, if you have your goals written down, you will work even harder for them. If you cannot believe it, it is not going to happen.

“Take Time to Think” was one of the central themes of Yalden’s message. He explained to the crowd a bracelet he wears with those words. He said that seeing these words every day serves as a constant reminder to himself to take a deep breath, take a step back and take time to think about how to react to the situation.

Later Monday evening, Yalden held a community event during which he focused his message towards parents and how they can notice signs from their kids and how they can help their children through tough times.

Sydney Campbell, HHS senior, was particularly impacted by Yalden’s address.

“Jeff gave a wonderful speech to our school and the surrounding area’s schools,” she said. “He said a lot of things and gave advice that I didn’t want to hear, but know I needed to. I believe the most important thing we need to remember from Jeff is that it’s okay to move on, there’s always hope, and ‘it’s going to be OK.’”

Tuesday morning, Yalden traveled to Falls City to speak with two schools there.

“We asked people to open their hearts and be OK with not being OK and when to ask for help,” Yalden posted on Facebook. “We touched hearts and changed lives. In the process my heart was changed too. I was inspired and privileged to be where I needed to be.”

Needless to say, many students were deeply affected by Yalden’s talk, and the students and staff of Hiawatha High, as well as the community at large, look forward to making KJ’s “I Believe” Fight Against Suicide a lasting tradition here.

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