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Students organized Arundel High mental health fair West County
Maryland Gazette - 4/4/2020
Statewide school cancellations put the kibosh on all extra-curricular activities. As the normally busy spring season approached, many students and teachers had invested substantial time and effort into major school events that are now either postponed indefinitely or canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bella Allen, a senior at Arundel High School, is counting her lucky charms that she and her team did not find themselves in a similar situation.
As luck would have it, the first Arundel High School Wildcat Mental Health & Wellness Fair, went off without a hitch on Feb. 26, merely days before word of closures began to surface.
The idea for a mental health and wellness fair originated with Bella, who then presented it to her classmate Abbey Murphy, also a senior at Arundel High. Together, they solicited help from faculty Signature Coordinator Susan Stawas.
"Mrs. Stawas was very supportive of this idea and found it very valuable to start the conversation about mental health as well," Bella said.
In September Bella volunteered at an Out of The Darkness Walk for suicide prevention in Annapolis. There, she met Juli Murray from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and learned about the resources the AFSP can provide for her school.
"I decided to bring the idea of an assembly to my signature coordinator Mrs. Stawas, and my friend Abbey Murphy," Bella said. "After a discussion, we chose to go to our principal, (Christine Davenport), and after discussing our plan, she suggested making it a school wide-event."
Students began planning in October and worked all the way up to the day of the event, some five months later. The fair would take place in the cafeteria during school hours. The first order of business was reaching out to potential sponsors from the mental health and wellness community that would agree to participate in the school fair.
"We also told them they would be able to share their resources with 2,000-ish students. That is something I believe the sponsors found valuable," Bella said.
They signed 25 diverse presenters from all around the county, including the Foundation for Suicide Prevention, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Substance Use and Prevention Resources, Crisis Response, Park Wellness Group and Oasis Center for Mental Health.
Representatives Anne Arundel Medical Center, Baltimore Washington Medical Center, Anne Arundel Community College, and the American Red Cross provided information for everyone. Other community support organizations like Kindness Grows Here, Robbie's Hope, Burgers and Bands, Ellie's Bus, One Love Foundation and others came to share their expertise.
Once they had their list of participants, Bella and Abbey approached their Stawas for further direction.
"We had students who helped us a week or two leading up to the event as well as a group of students who helped us with the activities that day. Leading up to the event we had a solid group of three to five students helping us," Bella said. "Then on the day of we had 15 to 20 students helping us out."
Students attending the school-wide program, 1,500 in number, came with instructions. A detailed schedule outlining three, 30-minute rotations by grade level with a 10-minute transition period between bells, allowed the young fairgoers to listen to guest speakers and chat with the variety of vendors that filled the school cafeteria.
Several drawings were held for students who participated and became actively engaged with the representatives. Presenting groups were given tickets to pass along at their discretion, to the students who became engaged and asked questions.
"This was a passion project, in a way," Bella said. "This was something we all cared about and that encouraged us to work as hard as we could. A big thank you to Mrs. Stawas for her continuous support over the last five months."
Bella wants more time for the next event, especially for the speaker's timeslots. She really wants students to know that they are not alone, that there are resources available to them just for the asking. And she said if you care about something and think that is important enough for people to know about it, then you should do something about it.
"There is no such thing as making a change that is too small," said Bella.
"Any act that is made towards helping someone is valuable. You don't have to change the whole entire world to make a difference. No matter how big or small, any act of service matters."
Caption: Abbey Murphy, right, and Isabella Allen wear the tee shirts that they designed for the first annual Arundel High School Wildcat Mental Health & Wellness Fair held on Feb. 26.