Emma Levasseur, president of the Mental Health Club at Old Rochester Regional High School, only intended to attend a walk for mental health, not organize one. But when the closest event she could find was in New York, she had a thought.
“Why not just plan mine?” she says.
Levasseur, a senior graduate, contacted Alia Cusolito, a rising junior who will take the reins of the club next year, to help her with this idea.
“They’re better at organizing,” Levasseur said of Cusolito.
Students plan for more than just a walk around the block. They organize a larger conversation and want to focus on ongoing awareness and education rather than foot movement.
“So many people really have mental health issues,” Cusolito said. “Recently, we lost a member of our community. She was one of my best childhood friends. When something like this happens, people talk about mental health for a little while, but then it’s forgotten and nobody does anything to change anything. It is an ongoing action and an ongoing conversation.
Levasseur and Cusolito, who are both from Rochester, reached out to Marion City Administrator Jay McGrail about using the bandstand at Marion Music Hall and the surrounding area. The select committee also enthusiastically endorsed the plan.
The walk will be a circle around the center of town starting and ending at the bandstand. After the walk is over, organizers will host performances, poetry readings and tables from local organizations with resources to support mental health.
Cusolito mentioned that Marion Police Chief Richard Nighelli has been a big supporter of their event. They said Nighelli was “really interested” in the event and helped contact local organizations for them.
Levasseur says the educational element of the event is most important to her because it means more about giving people knowledge and information rather than just talking about it.
“A community event like this is about raising awareness and providing people with information and resources so they know how they can get help and can see how they can help themselves. . It also helps people understand what other people are going through,” Cusolito said.
The Mental Health Club is a new organization at ORR, launched by Levasseur last year.
She said a lot of people have mental health issues, but they can often feel like they’re going through it alone.
“Our generation has spoken of [mental health] more and I like it,” Levasseur said.
Levasseur received help from club counselor Kelly Ochoa, his Spanish teacher. Soon the club started meeting regularly to do heartwarming activities, like coloring pages and “group circles,” where they sit as a group for open dialogue and pass the “talking turtle” around. a stuffed turtle that Ochoa brought back from a trip to Honduras that she uses to facilitate conversation.
“[The club] is just a safe space to talk about how you are doing. There aren’t many at school. It’s a lot of stress and it can be very isolating,” Cusolito said. “It’s nice to have a place where we recognize we’re struggling, but we can all support each other.”
The Walk for Mental Health will take place at Marion’s Music Hall Bandstand at 164 Front Street on Saturday, June 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will also be an art auction, with all proceeds going to benefit mental health organizations.
They will also be accepting donations for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The Trevor Project and the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective.
Those interested in presenting, performing or donating artwork can contact [email protected] or message their Instagram account, @orrhsbringchange2mind.