During the War of 1812, U.S. Navy Capt. James Lawrence’s dying words were, “Don’t give up the ship,” as he and his crew battled a British warship.
Paige Van Meter Sturgeon, who developed the ANCHOR outreach program for schools and students to increase suicide awareness, said she’s dedicated to helping students build better resiliency by staying afloat when life’s seas get turbulent.
“In my talk to students about suicide, I end with Lawrence’s story and use the ship as a symbol for you and talk about ANCHOR, which is a way to help them remember what to do during life’s storms,” said Sturgeon, a Southeast Christian Church member. “Hebrews 6:20 says, ‘Where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.’ Forerunner is a nautical term, which means that He goes before us and secures our anchor in the harbor so we can have safe passage into heaven.”
The letters in ANCHOR stand for:
Alert to see danger.
Never do nothing.
Cry out for help.
Hold on to hope.
Offer help to others.
Realize potential in yourself and life.
“If your child ever tells you they think someone is struggling, then tell the school, the parent or get other people involved,” Sturgeon added. “If you see a boat going down, you don’t say, ‘Well, I don’t want to overstep my bounds.’ No, you go and call a lifeguard. That’s why I do the ANCHOR program. If you notice something like that, you don’t just sit by and watch it sink. There is a great need for students.”
Sturgeon said ANCHOR wants to remind students suffering from hopelessness that they still have a purpose.
“The meaning of ANCHOR is that nothing in your life is random,” she said. “God will use every part of your story if you let Him. He truly is working all things together for good for those who are in Christ Jesus. We just don’t understand what His good is when we’re in the middle of the story. So we maintain hope in the middle since we know there’s a happy ending because of Jesus.”
Sturgeon has a master’s degree in counseling from Colorado Christian University.
She has worked in schools in Maine with juvenile delinquents, and in Kentucky, she has counseled young people living in group homes and foster/adoptive homes.
Sturgeon stopped practicing in 2009 because she had the first of her three children.
‘Throw your hat over the fence’
In 2016, Sturgeon’s friend from college called her out of the blue because her 12-year-old son was shot and killed.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about her,” Sturgeon said. “The Holy Spirit placed her on my mind and I couldn’t shake it. If we listen to Him, He will place more people or projects in our mind. The more open you are, the more opportunities you have. In our world, we try to hold on to our resources, ‘I don’t have time for that. I don’t have money for that. I can’t do that.’ Then, we don’t allow God the opportunity to redeem that time and show what He can do to make that work.”
Sturgeon wrote a devotional for her friend titled “25 Days of Advent Hope: In the Winter of Your Grief.” Southeast’s Care Ministry handed out 150 copies last Christmas.
“I decided to throw my hat over the fence,” Sturgeon added. “That’s an expression my dad always taught me. That if you throw your hat over the fence, you have to go get it. Like you have no choice.”
In 2017, Sturgeon started volunteering in grief recovery groups and met Lisa Schardein and Karen Buchanan—the founders of First Hour Grief Response—at the Care Ministry facilitator training.
In 2019, Schardein received a call about a high school wrestling coach who committed suicide, and she connected Sturgeon with members of the wrestling team.
“A lot of the wrestling students were having a hard time coping with that,” Sturgeon said. “We talked about the memories of him, laughed and processed.”
Sturgeon told the student counselor in passing that it would be good if they had someone talk to the entire student body, and a couple of weeks later, she became that someone.
“I really wasn’t meaning me. I had many reasons not to do it,” she said. “Talking to eight students around a table informally is a lot different than talking to 500. I prayed about it and said, ‘God, why am I doing this? If you want me to do this, I really need you to make this easy.’ I didn’t want to just go up and give them a bunch of statistics or warning signs. I wanted to engage them. I thought about how Jesus engaged them and how I was trained in my program. He engaged people with stories. He didn’t tell them do this or do that, He just told stories. You show, you don’t tell.”
Sturgeon gave away ANCHOR bracelets at the end of her talk.
In August 2020, Schardein sought grant money to make ANCHOR accessible to other schools as an online course. It was approved in January.
The ANCHOR course consists of eight video lessons with a questionnaire and a short quiz, each taught by Sturgeon, who is a certified School Suicide Prevention Specialist.
ANCHOR offers a virtual and an in-person course for middle and high school students.