Break the stigma: youth-led event promotes mental health awareness

August 8, 2023 /

On August 2, the nonprofit Children First ended their summer high school internship program with a week of daily events showcasing students’ community projects. Wednesday’s event was titled Break the Stigma and focused on mental health through activities like CPR training, meditation, art, and gardening. It was held at the private David Nelson Pocket Park, the newest addition to Niles Street since 2018.

Samantha Flores and Sebastian Garcia Herrera were the two student interns who planned the event. The process to plan included finding a topic, analyzing what community needs should be prioritized, and expressing how each project will give back. Interested high school students in the Bakersfield area can apply next year around May and for more information visit the Children First website.  

“I had a French teacher, and basically to ground us back from lunch was to take five minutes to do a little meditation — like this — with background music, and let’s not worry about anything. No tests, nothing,” stated Flores as the meditation music played in the atmosphere for the kids in attendance.

Flores is a recent graduate of East High School who finds it important to spread awareness of city resources and to perpetuate change in her own home that will have positive impacts on the community’s health. An example of positive change is incorporating more dialogue around healthy boundaries and consent for children.

“Growing up we were taught to be blindly obedient,” Flores continued, “However as we grow up we see my siblings and younger kids say ‘Well why do I have to do that? I don’t feel comfortable doing that.’”

Another way Flores wanted to empower younger individuals was to start families off with basic CPR training, which was demonstrated on an adult and infant mannequin during the event. 

Herrera co-planned this event because it was important for him to share with the youth that it’s okay to speak about mental health and the effects illnesses can have.

“We’re teaching these kids it’s okay to sit down and breathe and think, because with mental health if you don’t know how to calm yourself down you can do stuff you end up regretting later,” stated Herrera.

Children First employees and volunteers offer year-round services to the East side of Bakersfield and the greater area. Just this year they went from being one hundred percent volunteer-based to being granted funding for employees. On their website, they have more information regarding public food distributions, when tutoring programs are available, and upcoming free events. 

Gabriel Arellano is a Program Manager for Children First and has a background in political science. He chose to use his educational wisdom for a more direct approach to providing community aid.

“I decided to focus on local work because I feel like that’s where we make the greatest impact and especially in areas where there’s a bigger need, which is here in East Bakersfield, which historically needed the most help,” said Arellano.

Celina S. Palacio is another Program Manager with a background in art. She shared with the attending youth that they can do anything and be anything that brings them joy.

“I took a step back and thought what is it I actually like to do, and I invested in art,” Palacio stated.

Art and community service intersect with each other according to Palacio. At the Break the Stigma event art was a vital tool to engage youth and calm them down. 

“Their idea was that [mental health] is not really talked about or it feels more like it’s a silent culture, so to break that they wanted to bring out a firefighter and talk about CPR. So incorporating mental health with mental safety,” explained Palacio.

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