Stefanie Kaufman, Clarke High School

Stefanie Kaufman likes to get people talking, especially Stefanie Kaufman likes to get people talking, especially when the subject is suicide prevention. It was a lack of conversation about mental illness that spurred her to create Project LETS, which stands for Let?s Erase The Stigma. Kaufman, a student at W. Tresper Clarke High School, is applying for nonprofit status for the program and is working with two state assemblymen to propose a bill that would require suicide prevention training in schools. (June 3, 2013)

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Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Stefanie Kaufman likes to get people talking, especially when the subject is suicide prevention. It was a lack of conversation about mental illness that spurred her to create Project LETS, which stands for Let's Erase The Stigma.

Kaufman, of Westbury, started the group her junior year of high school after losing a friend to suicide when she was a freshman.

"Nobody really knew how to deal with it, and there was just such a stigma surrounding it," she said.

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So Kaufman, 18, who said she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder at 12, began speaking to youth groups, teachers, parents and friends as she set out to educate others about mental illness. She is applying for nonprofit status for the program and working with two state lawmakers on a bill that would require suicide prevention training in schools.

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"She's a remarkable person," said Kaufman's guidance counselor, Joan DeNigris. "She's one of those people who not only has ideas, but who acts on them."

And the LETS program will follow Kaufman -- who volunteers with autistic children, is a tutor and is vice president of the student government -- to Brown University.

"I don't think it's something that I can give up on now," she said. "My goal is just to help one person. If I can have a positive effect on one person and they can take what I show them and have a positive effect on another person, then it's just a big chain reaction."

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HIGHER ED: Kaufman plans to major in neuroscience at Brown University.

AT COLLEGE I'M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO: The open curriculum. "I love science, but I also write and do poetry, so I'm so excited to dip around into different fields."

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What makes you extraordinary

"I think a lot of people may have the same kind of heart that I have, but I don't think a lot of people actually have the drive and devotion to put something into motion, so I think that might make me stand out a little bit."

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