By Lee Reinsch
DE PERE – The Unified School District of De Pere honored Mike Cotter of Cotter Funeral Home for his work raising funds for mental health awareness efforts and Hope Squad, a peer-to-peer suicide-prevention group for students.
At the Dec. 9 school board meeting, Superintendent Ben Villarruel presented Cotter with a plaque and credited him with raising $58,000 for the group’s branches on both sides of the river, in the Unified and West De Pere school districts as well as in parochial schools.
Cotter said he isn’t comfortable with public recognition.
“There were plenty of other people who helped make it happen,” Cotter said.
As to how he got involved with the Hope Squad group, Cotter said a few years ago the suicide of an eighth-grader from another school district affected him and spurred him to take action.
He sought out the Brown County Suicide Prevention Coalition, and that’s where he heard about Hope Squad.
Cotter joined them in a few of their early-morning meetings and was sold on the program.
He called the kids “wonderful and full of energy.”
“The real heroes are the teachers, folks,” he said. “They’re right here in front of you.”
But he said it’s time for more people to get involved.
“This is an outstanding school district, but our community has to step up,” Cotter said. “Things like suicide, depression, drug and alcohol abuse – they aren’t the schools’ problems; you (teachers and schools) aren’t babysitters. The community has to step up to the plate.”
Hope Squad was founded by a former high school principal from Provo, Utah.
There are Hope Squads in more than 400 schools in 150 communities in 13 states.