Students taking in the somber "In Your Shoes" display.
Attitudes in Reverse uses its service dogs to break down barriers to communication.
West Windsor, N.J. – Now in its second year, MCCC’s Mental Wellness Resource Fair on Sept. 20 reminded students they are not alone. Hosted by the college’s Counseling and Community Network Department, the goal of the event is to raise awareness among students about mental health resources and to encourage them to seek help when they hit roadblocks or have a life crisis that is creating barriers to their success.
In addition to Mercer’s own counseling staff, which includes three full-time professionals, the fair’s participants included 16 community organizations. Among them were Attitudes in Reverse, Carrier Clinic, Catholic Charities, City of Angels, Division of Vocational Rehab (DVR), Footprints to Recovery, Hampton Behavioral Center, High Focus, Jewish Family & Children Services, Parents Anonymous of NJ, PFLA of Princeton, Planned Parenthood, Princeton House Behavioral Health, Summit Behavioral Health, and Summit Oaks.
Attitudes in Reverse (AIR) was a new addition this year. One of the group’s main missions is to encourage the hard conversations that may reduce the incidence of suicide among young people. AIR’s exhibit, “In Their Shoes,” consisted of 233 pairs of shoes lined up on the West Windsor Campus quad to represent New Jersey youth, ages 10 through 24, who ended their lives in the years between 2010 and 2012. Tags attached to the shoes carried messages of struggle and despair.
Those who walked by the exhibit were stopped in their tracks as they took it all in. Said sophomore Kahmiya Win, “This reminds you that you never really know what someone else may be going through. It reminds me to be caring and kind.”
A more joyful part of the AIR display were four service dogs, who were greeted with smiles from one and all. According to AIR’s Tricia Baker, the dogs go a long way to relieving stress and breaking down barriers to communication. The organization’s Paws for Minds program was established in 2012 and has been going strong ever since.
Said MCCC Senior Counselor Dorothy Gasparro, the fair’s organizer, “Our hope is if we keep talking about mental wellness, we will all become more aware of how to take better care of ourselves and be more compassionate and supportive to those who are suffering.”
Gasparro, the president of the N.J. Community College Counselors Association, notes that one in five Americans experiences a mental health issue at some time in his/her life. “We want students to understand that seeking counseling services doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. We want to reduce the stigma and ensure that students are not afraid to ask for help,” she said.
Students can seek help by contacting counselors Dorothy Gasparro at 609-570-3354 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; Martha Gunning at 609-570-3563 or by email at email@example.com; and Fred Weiner at 609-570-3470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.