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Since 2012, Marisa Vicere, founder of Jana Marie Foundation, has been raising mental health awareness among SCASD middle and high school students. Started in memory of Jana Marie Vicere who lost her battle with depression at the age of 30, the Jana Marie Foundation works with young people to knock down walls and transform emotional distress into hope.

“Our goal is to reach students before there is a crisis,” Vicere says. “Our work provides hope and sends a strong message that no one is alone. Throughout life we will all face adversity and have times where we feel stressed or overwhelmed. The Jana Marie Foundation equips students with tools to help navigate the hard situations.”

One of their most visually-recognized projects are called Stompers, textile sculptures made from recycled sneakers, created to ‘stomp out’ the stigma of mental illness. To date, 18 of these sculptures have been created. At local schools, they are unveiled with fanfare, creative poems, songs and celebration.

“It’s a way to remove some of the stigma and celebrate mental well-being,” Vicere says. The foundation also created a curriculum called Mind Matters that teaches students techniques to help overcome adversity and learn healthy coping mechanisms. “It’s important to help kids feel grounded and have tools they can use when they feel overwhelmed,” Vicere says. “It’s about learning resiliency.”

Jana Marie Foundation recognizes that in order to cast the widest safety net, education efforts must expand to educators, parents and caregivers, and other caring adults.

One way the foundation does this is through Straight Talk, an educational series for parents, teachers and concerned adults

which highlights topics of importance to the development of students.

“Everything we’ve been able to do with local students has been possible because of the district’s proactive stance on making sure our students have access to important information,” she says.

Additional funding will help the Jana Marie Foundation provide more training for teachers, administrators and staff in QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Suicide Prevention for Gatekeeper, develop mental health curriculum for younger ages so students can access support earlier, and continue to partner with schools to provide preventative care before crises happen.

The Mental Health Matters Fund will be the beneficiary of this year’s Maroon & Gray Society Banquet and will remain open permanently for donor participation. For more information on the Maroon & Gray Banquet, click here.