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Mentor helps high school senior after multiple family tragedies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Bullying and suicide rates are on the rise, both plaguing schools all over the country. They are two of the many reasons why the national Communities in Schools (CIS) organization is placing mentors to work with students who are struggling.

Eugena Butler, 16, shared her story of survival with First Coast News.

After experiencing multiple family tragedies, she was considering dropping out of school and taking her own life.

“They can’t tell I’m depressed, they can’t tell I’m suicidal, unless I tell you, but you wouldn’t know just looking at me,” Butler said. “I mean, high school is hard. It’s a difficult point in life.”

Butler moved with her family from West Palm Beach to Jacksonville in January. She said they wanted to seek a better environment for her and her sister and the cost of living was lower on the First Coast.

When she first arrived to Terry Parker High School, she dressed every day in a black hoodie that hid her face. She used it to try and disappear into the crowd, until the assistant dean stepped in and connected her with campus mentor Mary Naumann.

“He noticed me,” she said. “And he was like ‘what’s wrong? I’m going to take you to my friend Ms. Naumann.'”

Naumann instantly became her guardian angel on campus, keeping her on the right path.

They intervened just in time because that week Eugena asked her mother to check her into a hospital after having suicidal thoughts.

“I asked her to take me… I couldn’t take it no more, it was overwhelming, so I was just done. I was done with living," she said.

Being a new student as a senior in a new city was difficult enough, but she said she endured bullying and rumors that caused her a lot of emotional pain as well, causing her to leave the track team she had recently joined.

Buried deep down was something else, too.

“He was like, everything," she said.

It’s been a little over a year since her brother’s death. She doesn’t like to discuss the circumstances.

“I didn’t want to go to school at all," she said.

Shortly after, another tragedy struck the family.

“Someone told me my dad was really sick, that he had colon cancer," Butler said.

Her father passed away, too.

“My brother died May 30 and my dad died July 3, just a month apart, so I went to my brother’s funeral then I went to my dad’s funeral," he said.

Those tragedies led her down a dark path at first. She was depressed and suicidal.

Naumann helped her get back on track.

“I love Ms. Naumann!" she said.

“And I love my GiGi too, said Nauman in return. “She is one of my very special kids.”

“When I can sit and talk to someone or just give her a hug in the morning that makes the job all worthwhile,” said Naumann, who has at least 100 in her case load at Terry Parker alone.

In 2012, about one-third of seniors did not graduate in DCPS striking concern in the district to act quickly.

Graduation rates have now gone up 10 percent in the last five years thanks to mentor programs like this CIS. The 2016 graduation rate in Duval county was 78.8 percent, up from 67.7 percent in 2012. Over the past five years, graduation rates have increased by 3 percent more in local schools served by CIS than in those that were not.

As a leading dropout prevention organization, CIS of Jacksonville provides wraparound services for more than 7,500 struggling students in 37 Duval County Public Schools.

CIS works to provide students with the resources they need to succeed and graduate on time, whether with the help of an after-school meal or a supportive, one-on-one relationship.

Last year, 95 percent of CIS of Jacksonville seniors graduated.

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