Jana Marie Foundation Takes Innovative Approach To Promote Mental Well-Being Of Young People

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to tackling mental health-related problems, one State College nonprofit is promoting mental well-being through creative expression and important conversations.

In 2012, Jana Marie Foundation was founded in memory of Jana Marie Vicere, a Penn State grad who died by suicide. Her sister, Marisa Vicere, created the nonprofit to honor her sister who had a passion for helping others.

“The experience of losing my older sister to suicide cemented my dedication to ending the silence that often surrounds mental health and suicide,” Vicere said. “I really wanted to start an organization that allowed space for open and honest conversations and that reminded people they are not alone.”

Vicere’s goal was to create something sustainable and to avoid duplicating efforts being made by other local organizations. After researching what needs there were in Centre County communities and what it took to form a nonprofit, Vicere’s vision took off.

She started the Straight Talk series with the State College Area School District and created wellness programs for young people. These programs have since grown and blossomed into what Jana Marie Foundation is today.

Jana loved working with teenagers. Vicere explained they kept coming back to her love for working with adolescence and young adults, as well as her passion for creative expression, when the foundation was considering its focus.

“Jana Marie Foundation harnesses the power of creative expression and dialogue to spark conversations, build connections, and promote mental well-being among young people and their communities,” Vicere said. “We envision communities working together to knock down walls and transform emotional distress into hope and resiliency.”

Education and awareness are key to changing the conversation around mental health. Jana Marie Foundation offers numerous educational programs, including Mental Health First Aid for adults, young people, and teens in grades 10 through 12. Other programs include QPR Suicide Prevention for Gatekeepers and Mind Matters by Jana Marie Foundation.

“All of these educational programs provide further information about mental health and wellness and help us understand the warning signs that we may see if somebody is going through a difficult or distressing time,” Vicere explained. “By being more aware of these warning signs and having tools to help start a conversation, we can help encourage early intervention and get people to a variety of supports that may be helpful.”

Multiple programs are offered for elementary, middle school, and high school students. The Grow Program, for example, is geared toward students in fourth and fifth grade. It uses children’s books and engaging activities to share messages of self-confidence, relationship building, and healthy ways to express emotions.

There are even programs designed for adults and community members, such as the Survivors of Suicide Loss support group and Mokita dialogues, which foster conversations about “elephants” that exist across our community.

Jana Marie Foundation also has a strong partnership with Penn State. About a year ago, the foundation started to offer Mental Health First Aid courses and QPR Suicide Prevention for Gatekeepers for students through HDFS courses. Additionally, the foundation has worked with many other classes and numerous clubs to spread education.

QPR stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer, which are three steps anybody can take to save a life from suicide. This training is about two hours, and the Mental Health First Aid training is eight hours. A full list of courses the foundation offers can be found here.

“Jana Marie Foundation fosters hope and cultivates important conversations,” Vicere said. “We find innovative and creative ways to help spread awareness to mental health and suicide prevention. It is through the generous support of our donors and volunteers that we can continue to make big impacts on our community.”

The six core values sum up the scope of the organization — hope, acceptance, creativity, community, innovation, and heart. By building awareness, providing creative programs, and sparking conversation, Jana Marie Foundation opens minds and saves lives.

A calendar of upcoming events and resources can be found on Jana Marie Foundation’s website.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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