Oregon City High School senior Shaylee Cooper was introduced to Be Strong by her school's resource officer, David Plummer, during her sophomore year.
In partnership with Plummer and Be Strong, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing youth bullying and isolation, Cooper created We Dine Together, which quickly became the most popular club at OCHS by bringing together kids who previously had been eating alone.
Plummer and Cooper recognized the need to develop unity within the school, not because of stark division between social groups, but for those who didn't feel they were a part of any. Plummer nominated Shaylee to become Be Strong's second state representative in Oregon. She immediately sprang into action and was recognized for engaging fellow students with her comforting presence, heartfelt smile and infinite acts of kindness.
Cooper received additional recognition in May by being named Be Strong's student of the month for the entire nation.
"Shaylee is the most compassionate, kind and considerate person that I have ever met," Plummer said. "Every time you talk to her, you are met with a huge smile and kind words. She dedicates most of her time to making a difference in other people's lives."
We Dine Together meetings involve shared meals, goofy activities and discussions about challenges that students face. In the spring semester of 2019, Cooper spoke at Gardiner Middle School, where she had graduated. She shared how the club was making friends out of strangers and change-makers of bystanders, paving the way for another We Dine Together group to begin, led by three students in the seventh grade.
Plummer said, "Last year, during one of our meetings, a student started talking about how he was feeling suicidal, wanting to end his life, and he was invited down to our club. And then, he went on to talk about how he made friends at the club and, basically, it's changed his life."
We Dine Together has continued to grow, with upward of 100 students attending the group's meetings. Four OCHS students will continue to lead the club next year, after Cooper's graduation.
This spring brought new challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic as Cooper and her crew could no longer hold meetings at school, change someone's day with a hug, or erupt into spontaneous dance together.
They continued to hold We Dine Together meetings virtually via video conference. Knowing that isolation leads to loneliness and loneliness leads to depression, they made it a priority to check in on others by text or phone.
"There's an end to this tunnel, and we're going to see a bright side to everything that's happening right now," Cooper said in a video message to club members.
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