Wisconsin Legion Family educate youth that action is hope

Wisconsin Legion Family educate youth that action is hope

Annastasia “Yiayia” Wischki has driven 18,000 miles the past year in her state of Wisconsin for a purpose – The American Legion Children & Youth pillar. Wischki created a youth program out of District 2 that addresses bullying, self-harm and suicide.

Be the One 4 Our Youth is an action-oriented initiative that engages youth by giving them a task and mission to address these three topics, whether it’s for themselves or others. “I believe that we must empower others to do something if we are to be more effective in addressing the challenges of bullying, self-harm and suicide,” said Wischki, District 2 Children & Youth chair. “That is why I created an action-oriented approach. (Author) Ray Bradbury said, ‘Action is hope; there is no hope without action.’ I believe that.”

Be the One 4 Our Youth launched at Random Lake Middle School in Sheboygan County last year and has spread to schools throughout the state. To get into the schools, Wischki tells school superintendents that “this is another tool in your toolbox” to educate youth on how to address bullying, self-harm and suicide.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade receive a coloring book featuring Axel Noze the mascot, Wischki’s service dog, and his “Band of Buddies.” The coloring book talks about the benefits of having a buddy, making new buddies, how to tell a safe adult if someone is extra sad and features the 988 number to call if an adult is not around. There’s also a one-page coloring sheetwith Axel that says, “Help Axel Noze & his Band of Buddies by looking out for your friends. Tell a safe adult if something is wrong. And remember, anybody can call #988 to talk if they are alone and need help or just to talk. Can you show (by coloring in the open space) Axel Noze what your buddy looks like? Is it a dog or a cat? A fish or a bird? Or maybe a special person?”

The coloring page allows the student to hang it on the fridge for everyone in the family to see and be reminded where to go for help.

Middle and high school students receive a task and a mission through storytelling by Wischki and fellow Legion Riders.

Wischki and the Riders share how a motorcycle may have to get over for a bicyclists or runner. “They’re going down the road in their way. We don’t make fun of them. In fact, we make sure they’re safe so they can get to where they’re going as well. You don’t know what someone else is going through.” And they stress to “never ever leave someone in distress behind.”

Throughout the storytelling, students are given tasks:

·       Actively pay attention to those around you

·       Report to a safe person any bullying or something that worries you for yourself or another's welfare.

·       Use the talk lifeline #988 if no safe person is around to help you or someone else

“I don’t refer to it (988) as a crisis line or a suicide line. I call it a talk lifeline,” Wischki said. “Taking action gives hope. And hope means life.”.

Then they are given a mission:

·       Watch out for others

·       Ask safe adults for help

·       Use the 988 talk line

“I tell the students, if you see something happening to you or someone else and you feel powerless, I need you to find a safe person to tell because that is doing something; you did something about it. Or if an adult or safe person isn’t around, call 988.

“I tell the kids telling is doing something. Calling is doing something. Empower them to do something. Give them hope and let them know that what they’re doing makes a difference.”

Wischki said she and others have driven through a blizzard to provide this education to a K-12 school of 324 students.

“People say Yiayia you have so much energy. I really don’t have a lot of energy. But when you’re in front of people and you’re talking about hope, you need to look like you are convicted in what you believe. I am convicted about our mission. I am convicted about what we are set to do.”

Wischki also leaves students with a wearable reminder of hope – an embossed wristband with the words Action is Hope and 988; previous wristbands said Be the One. Since Sept. 1, 2022, 21,600 wristbands have been handed out to students, veterans, families and community members. 

“Action is hope and hope keeps people alive,” she said again, adding that when she speaks with students she always asks if there is a veteran in the home. If there is, she sends the student home with an extra wristband. And if Legionnaires can’t get into schools, they speak with school counselors and asks if they would like to have wristbands for the kids they meet with.  

The wristbands have reached posts, Legion Family members, VA facilities, mental health clinics, schools and beyond.

“It changes the trajectory; it changes where that life might be headed,” Wischki said.

Be the One 4 Our Youth also launched a challenge for middle and high school students to tell what it means to them to Be the One and put that into action. Watch the powerful message that students at Random Lake Middle school created to share what it means to Be the One. This initiative aligns with the Legion's Be the One campaign to prevent veteran suicides and end the stigma to ask for help. 

“No one accomplishes anything alone. I only created the program and lit the spark. The parents, grandparents, all our Legion families, communities and the youth themselves are the fuel for its growth.”

Wischki’s involvement with the Children & Youth pillar doesn’t end with the Be the One 4 Our Youth initiative. She also started a kindness rock project where rocks are painted by students and others to give to veterans.

Again, Random Lake Middle school were the first to paint rocks for Camp American Legion veterans and their families, a place for them to reconnect. They helped paint over 750 rocks.

And over the past year, over 3,000 kindness rocks have been painted by students, Legion Family members and others for delivery to Camp American Legion, Camp Hometown Heroes (a camp for youth who have lost a parent while on active duty), and to the Milwaukee VA domiciliary, Hoptel unit at Women's Resource Center. Elementary students and Legion Family members helped paint 500 rocks for the Hoptel, a program that provides temporary accommodations for veterans. So when the veterans leave the facility, they take home a kindness rock and a handwritten card of “affirmation to lift their spirits.”

While people may think Wischki has a rock quarry in her backyard she said, the rocks are purchased from Home Depot and she provides the paint if needed. The desire for the rocks have skyrocketed departmentwide because of the benefits they provide.

“Did you know that it was actually a mental health tool for the teens that painted them? The hidden therapeutic purpose of this project was one of mindfulness, learning to be in the present, non-verbal communication and a simple act of kindness. All proven to provide mental and physical benefits irrespective of age.”

She gave the students at Random Lake Middle school a pizza party for their help. After thanking the students, “I said, ‘Don’t answer me, but you painted those rocks to give hope to those veterans and that family. Why the picture that you did or why the words that you wrote? Think about that.’ It helps them to understand where their safe place is or what is the thing that they can think of in that moment, they can go to that place, or that word or put that picture in their mind and they’re going to be ok.”

Wischki said thanks to the support of Department Commander Julie Muhle, Second District Commander Jim Johnson, Second District Legion Riders Director Corey Doehrmann and Legion Family members, “I have been given support, affirmation and latitude to be the best advocate for our youth and families. Leadership that allows for innovation is so important if we’re going to stimulate the minds, if we’re going to  move forward and we’re going to stay relevant, active and visible in the community.”