BY ALIZA FELDMAN
This summer, I partook in The Project Proactive summer leadership program. I had originally heard about the program from my mother who saw Project Proactive’s Instagram account and told me that this was a leadership program for kids my age. Although I didn’t know exactly what to expect, I decided to apply anyway.
I learned more about it during my interview and I was excited that it was about much more than enhancing my leadership skills; it was about increasing awareness about mental health as well- something that is very much needed in the world right now.
On the first day, the leaders and the other teen participants talked about the issues their own communities face, being that the stigma surrounding mental health causes adults and children alike to be reluctant to get help when they need it. All of them seemed to feel that they had a goal that they wanted to accomplish- a willingness to change the status quo. Having come from a family, school, and community that value proactive mental health (my father is a mental health counselor and my brother is in school to become one) I was a bit concerned that I would not be able to relate to others in the group who had a very different set of circumstances. Thankfully, I was wrong.
I listened to the speakers talk about all sorts of practical leadership skills that would help us start our own initiatives from start to finish, like marketing skills. I learned some new ideas from a mental health first aid perspective, but the speakers who impacted me the most were the ones who spoke about their own personal experiences with mental health struggles and the ways in which they were able to get through them.
I listened intently as they spoke about abuse, addiction, and how receiving the proper help quite literally changed their lives. I was shocked by the story that Eli Nash told; how the trauma and abuse he withstood led him to develop a serious addiction. How the shame he felt inside was so strong of an emotion and how confronting a therapist was so stigmatized that he was only able to receive help many years after what he went through. His story touched me.
I finally understood how lucky I was to be part of a family who values mental health immensely and recognizes the importance of reaching out for help when it is necessary.
When it came time to develop a project that would spur change and awareness, I thought back to Eli Nash’s story- to that boy who endured tremendous pain throughout his childhood which could have been lessened if he had the means to express his feelings or the resources to get help.
My team worked together to create a project that would accomplish just that.
We came up with an idea for a website that would allow teens who are struggling to express themselves in a way that works for them and caters to their specific skills, through different artistic forms. Many of the people in my group were drawn toward creative expression and we felt that a community of like minded people would really encourage people to process what they are going through in a healthy way. The website also provides a list of hotlines and other resources to help people find the help they need.
We called it Create and Connect.
We worked tirelessly to ensure that every detail was in place- the logistics of our website, the social media account, our marketing and budgeting plan.
It came time for our presentation and although our plan for the website did not require much money to be successful, we were hoping to win the 500 dollars to jump start our initiative and popularize it. Our presentation ran smoothly and to our surprise, we won!
Looking back, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.
I was not aware of the impact it would have when I first joined, but this program changed my perspective on mental health entirely. I realized how much change and awareness needed to be brought about outside of the small bubble I live and grew up in.
Hopefully, with Create and Connect, I will be able to effect change, making an impact on teens who aren’t as privileged as I am, helping them to feel safe reaching out and getting help with whatever mental health struggles they face.
My name is Aliza Feldman. I live in Miami Beach, Florida and I am a Junior at Katz Yeshiva High School. I am a violinist and I enjoy playing sports, reading, and writing.