Girl Scout Brittany Boetticher, Advocate for Suicide Prevention

A 12-year-old boy – we’ll call him Noah, for the sake of a name – was upset about his family’s upcoming move. It meant a new school and having to make new friends. What could be worse than being uprooted at age 12? One day on the school bus ride home, he told two friends he was going to kill himself at the end of the school year so he wouldn’t have to move.

One of the friends had trouble falling asleep that night. He woke his mom, telling her he was worried about Noah, believing he might kill himself. Mom called the school, which promptly notified Noah’s parents. Response was lightning-quick and effective, with school, guidance counselors, parents, and child working in concert. Evaluation was followed up with a bit of therapy.

True story; positive outcome. Such is the importance of “reaching out.”

And it’s a fact not lost on Jefferson Township High School senior Brittany Boetticher, a lifelong Lake Hopatcong resident. Active in school, she is involved in drama, the chamber choir, women’s ensemble, Madrigal Singers, and Peer Development Program. She also has a big heart.

“Almost three years ago, a recent graduate from my school took his own life. His death was announced in homeroom” and was a shock to everyone, she tells The Jefferson Chronicle. Brittany was inspired to advocate for suicide prevention, making it her personal mission.

On the Right Track

In the years since Brittany’s pledge to advocate, death by suicide in the U.S. has been reaching epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicides across the country increased 25% since the start of the millennium, with casualties as young as six years old. In fact, a recent nationwide hospital study found that the number of kids and teens who visited emergency rooms because of suicidal thoughts and attempts doubled between 2007 and 2015. Among the visits, 43% were children ages 5-11.

Indeed, Brittany was on an essential advocacy track and brought her suicide prevention advocacy to light in Jefferson. A Girl Scout since kindergarten, she chose suicide prevention as her project for the Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting and akin to Boy Scouting’s Eagle Award.

Last month, Brittany’s pursuit to raise awareness came to fruition with the public showing of an award-winning documentary, Suicide: The Ripple Effect. The film was presented to a well-attended audience of residents. It was also shown during 8th-grade homeroom in the township’s middle school and will be presented in the high school.

Suicide: The Ripple Effect is a film that highlights the story of Kevin Hines, who attempted to take his life at age 19 by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Kevin is now a world-renowned mental health advocate, motivational speaker, and author who travels the globe with his message of hope, recovery, and wellness.
Audience members, including Chief of Police Sean Conrad, captivated by documentary “Suicide: The Ripple Effect”. (Photo: Erin Ackerly)

“I felt the topic needed to be discussed and decided that suicide prevention, education, and awareness was what my project was meant to be,” she explains. “I decided to call it Project Speak Out! so that people can know the importance of speaking out.”

Teamwork

Brittany teamed up with Jefferson Township (JT) Connect to bring the documentary to the township. The film highlights the story of Kevin Hines, who survived a suicidal leap off the Golden Gate Bridge at age 19.

“A couple of years ago, my mom saw Kevin Hines speak at the County College of Morris. Not too long after, we heard about his documentary,” she tells The Chronicle. The film was released soon after Brittany chose her project. “After I saw it, I realized that this was the exact program I had to get into the school to be shown because it was a story of hope and healing,” she notes.

Suicide: The Ripple Effect also shows the positive ripple effects of advocacy, inspiration, and hope, all of which help to heal as well as to motivate the will to stay alive – the very ideals Brittany aspired to share. “I worked closely with JT Connect and Margaret Widgren to roll the project out thoughtfully,” she says. Widgren is the director of Student Personnel Services and the anti-bullying coordinator for the township.

Brittany’s mother, Janet Boetticher, a member of JT Connect, pointed her in the direction of the organization, which she eventually joined. “I was attending the meetings regularly and I connect strongly with the message.” That message is “Stigma Free,” a motto the township officially adopted years ago, aiming to eliminate any shame linked to mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

Brittany Boetticher and JT Connect both pictured), who teamed up to bring the documentary to the township. (Photo: Erin Ackerly)

With JT Connect member Melissa Kiritisis as her project advisor, Brittany won the full support of the organization, which helped fund the movie. And when the high school student council heard about the effort, “they donated some money toward my project.”

While confident the topic of suicide awareness is a vital one, “the whole process surprised me,” she says. “I knew this was an important topic, but was amazed at just how much the community rallied behind me. I gained the support of so many people in such a short time.”

Brittany Boetticher, pictured with representatives of the local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. (Photo: Erin Ackerly)

G.I.R.L.

Brittany is not sure when she will receive her Gold Award, but credits Girl Scouting with preparing her to tackle a project like suicide awareness and prevention. “Girl Scouts prepares us with leadership skills. Girl Scouting is focused on motivating girls to be go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders … as in G.I.R.L.,” she quips. “The Gold Award is the highest any Girl Scout can earn. It has shown me that I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it and work hard to achieve my goal.”

No surprise: Scouting is in Brittany’s DNA. Her sister Brooke, 23, was also a Girl Scout through her senior year and is now a lifetime scout. So is their mom, Janet Boetticher, who was named Citizen of the Year for 2019 by the mayor of Jefferson Township for her outstanding volunteer service to the community. Obviously, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

Brittany plans to continue advocating for suicide prevention. “I hope that in college I will be able to continue to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health, whether that is through a club or something that I do on my own.”

As for Project Speak Out!, the Gold Award contender says she is honored to have had the opportunity to open the conversation about such an important topic. “I would like to thank everyone who helped me and supported me all throughout this project,” she tells The Chronicle.

But it is likely that Jefferson thanks Brittany more so. The impact of Project Speak Out! may already be saving lives.

Brittany Boetticher, pictured with officials from the Township of Jefferson and school system. (Photo: Erin Ackerly)

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at maria.weiskott@thejeffersonchronicle.com.