Feb 18, 2019 | By: Anthony Scott

“Smiles For Jake” Hopes To Build A Happier Community

When 16-year-old Brainerd High School student Jake Haapajoki took his own life last February, it left the Brainerd community in shock. Now almost a year since Haapajoki’s death, his smiles are still living on.

Hundreds of people gathered at Brainerd High School yesterday to re-launch the “Smiles for Jake” movement. The goal of “Smiles for Jake” is to reduce the suicide rate through campaigns that uplift people’s spirits and make them feel better about themselves. The first campaign was launched last night as people were encouraged to give high-fives to anyone they see.

“What we believe is that you can change the course of someone’s day,” Kristi Westbrock, Head of the “Smiles for Jake” re-launch movement, said. “You don’t know, especially when it’s a kid like Jake who smiled all the time, and nobody knew this is how he was feeling. What if Jake would have had one more high-five that day, or one more pat on the back? You never know when you are going to change the course of somebody’s life.”

Because of Jake Haapajoki’s death, some students at Brainerd High School created the Lighthouse Project, which has already raised $75,000 to help students in the area get mental health screenings. “Smiles for Jake” and the Lighthouse Project will be working together in the future to fight against mental illnesses.

“‘Smiles for Jake’ is going to have a great hold on the community, and we have a great hold on the students,” Noah Sundberg, The Lighthouse Project’s founder, said. “So, we can just work together to get both the adults and the kids involved. Mental health is a serious thing, and to be able to talk about it really has to change.”

If you would like more information, the “Smiles for Jake” movement is launching their website on Thursday, February 21st at smilesforjake.org.

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