If you are a student at Pullman High School, you have most likely noticed, on occasion, a group of people giving out treats and spreading positivity among PHS students. A few months ago, this group was gathered in front of the school handing out breakfast pastries and rocks with positive slogans on them. These same individuals have decorated a bulletin in the Commons with positive phrases such as “You Got This!” that students can take as they need and, not long before Winter Break, this group gathered to give out holiday treats during lunch.
If you’re like me, you might have wondered about the purpose of this group and why they have been coming to PHS. To address these inquiries, I had a chance to ask one of the organizers of this program, Margaret Gollnick, some questions about her work.
As many of you may know, towards the end of the academic year last year a PHS student sadly ended his life. Gollnick mentioned she had a “personal connection” with the student and, as a volunteer at many Pullman schools, had also been noticing an upward trend of mental health issues in schools across the district. She felt that she “had to do something.”
This initiative, appropriately named “We Care,” started with parents such as Gollnick and has since evolved into a network of staff, parents, students, and others holding events at both PHS and LMS. Whether handing out positive phrases or poppyseed muffins, the primary goal of “We Care” is to help students feel like they have a community to support them. As Gollnick said,
“After the death of one of our students at PHS, we all felt helpless. We want to be able to help in some way. We want all of our kids to feel cared for and loved. We want them to know that we are here to listen, to reach out to. It’s as simple as that.”
To help achieve this goal, “We Care” has partnered with Palouse Advocacy and ATVP (Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse) to help “bring awareness to mental health issues” as well as to make suicide hotline information accessible and has been using the tag #GreyhoundStrong to spread awareness.
Gollnick mentioned she has already seen some beneficial effects of the program. She says she has observed “more conversations happening about mental health” in the community at large, including the employment of a new full time therapist at Pullman High School. However, the greatest positive impacts of the program Gollnick has seen are the one-on-one conversations she gets to have with students when they come to the program’s table to pick up hot cocoa or Christmas cookies. She remarked that these interactions are “priceless.”
“We Care” currently aims to hold events about three times a year, but Gollnick hopes to hold more, depending on the program’s funds. In the long term, her goal is for “We Care” to bring awareness to mental health issues in the community and, in addition, help to address them. She remarked that “sometimes even parents don’t know how to help.” This program aims to start conversations between students and parents as well as the community at large.
One way in which this goal is being accomplished is through PHS’ new school therapist, Jessica Cavignetto. Cavignetto is in the process of designing a new mental health club at PHS to spark conversation about these “taboo” issues. According to The Child Mind Institute, more than 14% of youth ages 13-17 battle depression, while nearly one in three meet the criteria for some form of anxiety disorder. These issues need to be talked about, and this new club provides such a platform through activities aimed at raising awareness and their eventual assumption of the responsibility for running many of the “We Care” events at PHS.
All in all, the “We Care” program is a great first step in acknowledging mental health issues among adolescents, especially in our own community. It will be exciting to see the impacts of this initiative on the students at PHS and how it will hopefully grow to benefit our community as a whole.