CHHS Peer Helpers touch the community

By MOLLY DAVIDSON / Staff Writer

CHELSEA—When Daniel Fraunfelder transferred to Chelsea High School as a sophomore, the CHHS Peer Helpers reached out and welcomed him to the community.

“Within my first week of going to the school, I was invited to a new student cupcake party by peer helpers,” Fraunfelder said.

Now a senior, Fraunfelder is part of that very group that embraced him as a sophomore.

“(Peer Helpers) just appealed to me because I’ve always enjoyed helping other people,” Fraunfelder said.

Peer Helpers is a select group of students, 13 juniors and 13 seniors to be exact, chosen through an extensive application and interview process.

Led by English teacher Jennifer Bailey, the students are trained to be leaders and mentors to their fellow CHHS classmates. They learn skills such as problem solving, conflict mediation and how to identify the signs of depression and suicide, Bailey said.

“It’s a leadership program, we do a lot of mentoring and service,” Bailey said. “It’s essentially peers mentoring peers.”

The Peer Helpers run large events in the school community, such as freshman orientation and new student parties. They also mentor their peers and tutor 55 students. Since mid-October 2014, the CHHS Peer Tutors have logged more than 350 hours of tutoring, Bailey noted.

“It’s the little things that impact a lot,” senior Peer Helper Gabbi Rutledge said. “If we touch just one kid, we help spread the word about being a role model for our peers.”

The Peer Helpers’ impact extends beyond the walls of Chelsea High School as well. Each student must earn 40 hours of community service, and they have organized events such as a drive to collect winter coats for homeless youth in Birmingham, Bailey said.

While they make a difference in the school and local community, Peer Helpers makes a positive change in the student participants as well, Bailey explained.

“Generally, I think they become more aware of the people around them, they become more empathetic to other people,” Bailey said. “Without fail, (former students) tell me this had the most impact of everything they did in high school.”

Rutledge described how her two-year involvement in Peer Helpers has transformed her.

“I wanted to get into (Peer Helpers) because of her (Bailey), not knowing the change I would go through,” Rutledge said. “Peer Helpers kind of blossomed me open.”