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Chelsea’s #WhyYouMatter campaign partners with County Mental Health

Courtesy photo. Speakers at the fourth annual #WhyYouMatter assembly, held at Chelsea High School on Jan. 16, were (left to right) special education teacher consultant Art Finger, junior Riley Thorburn, teacher Valerie Johnson, and Derek Schaedig, 2016 Chelsea graduate and Harvard student and hockey player.

By Crystal Hayduk

In its fourth year, Chelsea High School’s (CHS) #WhyYouMatter campaign is gaining strength county-wide, thanks to a partnership with the #wishyouknew mental health campaign.

Laura Naar, CHS art teacher and advisor for #WhyYouMatter, wrote in a press release that the local #wishyouknew campaign “… aims to spark honest conversations by sharing our truths, feelings, successes, and hardships in an effort to better support each other and connect as one Chelsea community.”

This year, the collaboration between Washtenaw County Health Department, Washtenaw County Community Mental Health, and Washtenaw Intermediate School District is designed to tackle the issues of youth mental health and reducing stigma.

Four courageous individuals revealed their personal #wishyouknew stories at the assembly held at the high school on Jan. 16.

Eleventh-grade student Riley Thorburn spoke about her inability to attain perfection. She said that life is not perfect, and that the “zigs and zags” are what make us who we are.

English teacher Valerie Johnson spoke about learning to use her voice as an advocate.

Art Finger, special education teacher consultant, discussed previous challenges and feeling alone. He reminded students of support systems and people who are available to them when they need help.

Derek Schaedig, Harvard hockey player and 2016 CHS graduate, shared his story of getting help to battle his depression. His #wishyouknew was that depression is a diagnosable disease that can be overcome with the correct treatment plan. (You can read Schaedig’s story in Harvard’s magazine, The Crimson, here: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/10/31/student-athletes-mental-illness/.)

Teachers provided age-appropriate lessons related to the assembly that allowed students to reflect on what they had learned. Students were asked to write a response to “I wish you knew…” on 4X6 cards to share their own honest and unique perspectives with district staff and the Chelsea community. If students had trouble completing the statement, they were asked to consider important past experiences, beneficial advice, influential people, struggles, or talents.

Community members who would like to add to the conversation by sharing their perspectives and experiences can find #wishyouknew cards, along with collection boxes, at Agricole, Breathe Yoga, Chelsea Alehouse, Smokehouse 52 BBQ, and all district school buildings.

“The cards created by students and community members will be collected until the beginning of March, when they will be compiled and displayed as a public art project in downtown Chelsea,” said Naar. “The goal of the public art project is to spark conversations between Chelsea students and their community.”

Extending the conversation even further, postcards will be provided in March so that students and community members can write personal #wishyouknew statements in a format suitable for mailing. 

CHS counselor Jason Murphy credits the students for continuing to play a pivotal role in planning the annual campaign. “They helped coordinate the assembly, picked the music and designed the wrist bands that were given out, picked the speakers, shot and edited videos, invited community members, and asked businesses to participate in the follow-up community activities,” he said.

Student feedback since the event has been “overwhelmingly positive,” said Murphy. “The cards helped us spark conversations with a number of kids we may not have had otherwise. I’ve spoken to a handful of kids already this week. That part is great for me and not always seen by the public.” 

Principal Mike Kapolka appreciates the efforts of his staff and students for this important work. “The #WYM campaign has become a part of our culture and climate of support at Chelsea High School as well as in the district,” he said.

“The program has been replicated by numerous schools across the nation in an effort to engage youth while connecting them to their school community in a positive way. I am thankful for the work of Laura Naar, Jason Murphy, Laura Lutz, Laura Woodruff and all of our #WYM students for making this year’s campaign a success,” he said.    

#WhyYouMatter history and related resources

The first #WhyYouMatter campaign was in 2017, conceived in Chelsea following the deaths of three local young people between October, 2015 and August, 2016. (Coverage of the first event: https://chelseaupdate.com/whyyoumatter-grief-response-results-school-wide-art-project-slideshow/.)

The mission of #WhyYouMatter is to use public art “… that focuses on empowering students while fostering a positive school climate where all people feel supported and valued.”

For more information about the campaign and links to mental health resources for all ages, visit https://www.washtenaw.org/2868/wishyouknew-Mental-Health-Campaign.

Funding for the 2020 campaign is provided by the Chelsea Education Foundation (CEF), P2P (Peer-to-Peer) University of Michigan Depression Center, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District Mental Health Anti-Stigma Grant (funded by the county’s mental health and public safety preservation millage) and private donations.

For more information about the nonprofit #WhyYouMatter or to donate, visit http://www.whyyoumatter.org/.   

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