“We won’t stop until every classroom in the country has one,” say Jason Halpern and Luke Rothstein when asked about Stop the Bleed kits and their ultimate goal for the work they’ve been doing. Jason and Luke are juniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. – one of dozens of schools that have experienced a mass shooting. Amid the trauma and grief, they realized they were lucky to have been afforded more time and emerged with an overwhelming sense of urgency to help others and prevent senseless deaths from occurring again.
It all started with a conversation the boys had with one of their teachers last year about Stop the Bleed kits. Stop the Bleed is a call to action and national awareness campaign created in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. The initiative aims to better prepare the public to save lives by encouraging civilians to receive training to be a type of first responder in life-threatening scenarios, until professional help arrives. Upon learning that their teachers were the only ones trained to use the kits, Jason, Luke and their friends Brett Unger and Eric Nacach realized they needed to do something to change that. “We wanted to get trained and get everyone in the school trained.” The kits cost anywhere from $45 to $70 and considering the size of their high school with 3,400 students, getting a kit for every classroom was going to require strategy and funding. The pair decided the best way to raise money for the kits was to sell t-shirts. Through their efforts, they raised over $26,000 to secure enough kits for each of their school’s classrooms.
While raising that amount of money was an outstanding achievement, the pair knew there was more to do, so they founded ‘MSD - mind strength determination to Stop the Bleed’ – a club whose goal is to inform, empower and equip as many students as possible with lifesaving skills. They would also need some credible reinforcements from the community to enhance their mission and take the operation to the next level, so they sent dozens of e-mails reaching out to various agencies in their community. Eventually, they joined forces with the Coral Springs Fire Department (CSFD) and gained mentors and role models in Chief Robert McGilloway and Chief Frank Babinec. The boys have credited the chiefs in supporting all their ideas and suggestions and guiding them to achieve their goals. Jason and Luke’s moms, Susan Halpern and Stacey Rothstein also praised the two chiefs saying they “really took the boys under their wings, taken them out of their boxes and helped them with their public speaking.”
With the support of the CSFD, Jason and Luke have been able to provide Stop the Bleed trainings at their school and plan to eventually provide trainings for every school in Broward County. Since the boys are not yet 18, they are only able to conduct trainings if an adult who’s had training is present. However, they emphasized that the kits are so easy to use that children as young as nine years old are eligible to receive training.
Jason and Luke have been recognized for the progress they have made in such a short time with their Stop the Bleed initiatives. In September, the American Red Cross of Broward County presented them with the Humanitarian of the Year Award for their work. Additionally, they were recognized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky, who presented them with an award for their generosity in raising the money for the kits. She also gave them the honor of accepting a Proclamation for the City of Parkland for National Stop the Bleed Day in May.
As Jason and Luke continue to juggle AP classes, homework, sports, extracurricular activities and begin preparing for college entrance exams, they remain in full throttle with their club’s efforts. Their plan for the end of the school year is to hold as many trainings as possible, get more kits, do more fundraising and to secure larger sponsors like Bayer and Johnson & Johnson. “We hope they [sponsors] fall in love with the idea,” says Stacey Rothstein, “because we need as many corporate sponsors and people that make the kits [to help].”
In the event that their community work and school activities ever become too much, their school has many mental health services available. Therapists and counselors are available in case students need to talk. There’s an onsite wellness center and they even have therapy dogs that come to the school. Their moms say that within their small community, there are many opportunities to meet with others experiencing grief, including yoga meetups.
For now, Jason and Luke continue to live like normal teenagers. Jason hasn’t decided what he wants to pursue in college. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to study yet, it hasn’t crossed my mind. I just want to get into a good college first and then figure it out later,” he says. Luke, who plays basketball, is interested in becoming a sports agent or psychologist.
When asked how the incident has affected them, they say without hesitation, “We are all forever changed from this. It’s a very big mental health aspect for us. We want to be able to help people because this could have happened to us, so we are just thankful we are here.”
To get trained in lifesaving skills that will prepare you to respond to emergencies in your community, visit redcross.org/take-a-class.
Written by Eliza Villanueva
Photos by Paula Prendergast