Val Estrada Brings ‘Hope’ to Students and Staff

Val Estrada stands with fellow Hope Squad members junior Aiza Khalil and senior Souhita Thota as they pass out informational cards and stress toys at a lunchtime Hope Squad activity on Sept. 10. (Photo Courtesy of Maureen Muir)

Students crowd around the table, uncapping markers and reaching for multicolored sticky notes. Each one reflects on what they have done to care for their mental health this past year, turning the piece of poster paper that was blank only ten minutes prior into a mosaic of ideas. At the head of the busy table is Hope Squad member and junior Val Estrada, who helped organize the event, as well as other lunchtime activities, in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 6-10. 

Estrada and the other members of Hope Squad are required to undergo training that teaches them how to identify signs of depression in students to ultimately prevent youth suicides. 

“I’ve witnessed my own family members go through tough mental illness issues and honestly just seeing it and it being very present within my friends and my community, it gave me a push to do something about it,” Estrada said. “Although I may not suffer from mental illness as severely as others do, I want to understand them, and I want to be able to help in which way I can.”

According to mental health specialist and co-lead adviser of Hope Squad Maureen Muir, Estrada was nominated by her peers and teachers and was chosen to be on the team after an interview process. 

“Last week we did a suicide prevention lunchtime activity, and she showed up and was just willing to help out and interact with students,” Muir said. “She was asking them all like, ‘List three warning signs of suicide,’ and so she was providing a lot of informaition about suicide prevention, and she just has a very outgoing and very friendly personality.”

Although I may not suffer from mental illness as severely as others do, I want to understand them, and I want to be able to help in which way I can.

— Val Estrada

Along with helping out with activities, Estrada is always available and ready to help with anything for the squad, according to fellow Hope Squad member and senior Amitoj Singh, who met her in eighth grade when they both participated in debate classes.

“I always thought that she was a very hardworking person who had a lot of perseverance,” Singh said.

Estrada has taken an active role in helping out with campus-wide campaigns and in creating social media posts for Hope Squad’s Instagram page, according to Muir. Over quarantine, Estrada made a graphic which lists seven things that people should know about mental health. 

Although Estrada is not the only member of Hope Squad, everyone who knows her agrees that her compassion and outgoing nature make her a perfect fit for the job.

“She has a tremendous heart, she’s very caring to others, and to herself,” Muir said. “I just really appreciate her wanting to step in and be there for students that are going through a rough time and just be that supporting person that that student doesn’t have in their life.”