Like many teens, Michelle Rubinstein maintains a jam-packed schedule. In addition to her strenuous course load at Mountain View High School, the 16-year-old junior is a competitive dancer and an active member of BBYO.
But being busy isn’t the only thing Rubenstein has in common with many Bay Area teens. Like them, she too has been personally affected by teen suicide.
“I have a lot of close friends who have considered it,” she disclosed. Though she hasn’t been close to anyone who has taken his or her own life, the rash of high school suicides in the Palo Alto area over the past three years has shaken her.
So at the beginning of this year, she and a few friends from the Northern California region of BBYO, the national Jewish teen movement, decided to do something about it.
They planned and organized the Tuned-In Benefit Concert to Prevent Teen Suicide, which took place on
May 20 at the 83-year-old Fox Theatre in Redwood City.
Featuring raffles and other interactive activities, as well as three bands — headliner Parachute, from Virginia, and two local teen bands — the event’s goal was to raise awareness about bullying, teen suicide and what students can do to help.
It was the culmination of months of hard work for Rubinstein and the teen committee she assembled, which included Piedmont junior Josh Berl, San Francisco sophomore Anna Bernstein, Oakland sophomore Rozzie Heeger and Los Altos junior Sharon Serper.
“It’s an issue that has affected all of us,” said Rubinstein, who joined BBYO as a freshman in 2009. “We figured if we could partner with the right people, but make it a teen-led event, we could really make a difference — at least get people thinking about what they can do.”
The teens invited Break Through the Static, a peer-support program available to the Peninsula’s suicide-bereaved teenagers, and Star Vista, San Mateo County’s crisis intervention and suicide prevention program, to give presentations at the concert.
Proceeds from the 300 tickets sold benefited those groups. The teens also launched a separate social media campaign asking for pledges, and raffled off items including a football signed by the San Francisco 49ers. As of early this week, they had raised more than $13,000.
Rubinstein said that while the concert may have had a modest turnout in the 1,300-capacity venue, “It was a great, really engaged crowd.” She’s excited by the conversations she knows it spurred.
“I know the message [about bullying] really got across — this idea of, we’re trying to save our friends from jumping off a cliff, but there shouldn’t even be a cliff in the first place. How do we change the situations that lead to people even thinking about this?”
Furthermore, said the teen, she knows she’ll utilize the skills she developed planning the event — likely sooner rather than later, as she’s already brainstorming on the campaign’s next step.
“This was just the beginning,” she said. “It’s a lifetime commitment.”