A pair of Brock students are using an experiential education exercise to shine a spotlight on mental health.
Fourth-year Concurrent Education students Ishana Sharma and Jessica Schryer are organizing a fundraiser, the Art and Soul Pop-up Patio, as a key component of their EDUC 4P46 Mental Health and Wellness class. The course features an assignment challenging students to plan, advertise and execute mental health awareness events in their community.
Sharma and Schryer have partnered with the Shaw Festival and will be hosting Art and Soul on Saturday, Oct. 6 at the Shaw Festival Theatre, 10 Queens Parade in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The pop-up patio, which runs from 4 to 6:30 p.m., will include guest speakers and live performances to demonstrate how the arts can be helpful for mental health and can assist those coping with mental health issues.
Though the fourth-year course’s day-to-day material focuses on mental health and wellness in the classroom and how to best help students cope with those issues in a school environment, Sharma hopes the event will impact a broader audience.
“I have learned there are a lot of people who are struggling with issues that they have not really spoken about,” she said.
Proceeds from the event will be split between the Pathstone Foundation, which supports mental health in Niagara, and the Jonah McIntosh Memorial Scholarship, an award set up at Sheridan College in memory of former Shaw Festival actor Jonah McIntosh, who took his own life in July 2017.
For McIntosh’s mother, Lisa Daugharty, knowing Brock students are staging an event in memory of her son offers a chance for healing while also educating others. The gesture is particularly touching to the family because McIntosh’s younger brother Cody studies at the University.
“My family and I are grateful that the tragedy of Jonah’s sudden death has become a vessel for raising awareness that this can happen to anyone,” said Daugharty, who will be speaking at Art and Soul. “Allowing our family and others who cared about Jonah to remember him for the shining light that he was, always smiling and willing to help anyone who needed it as opposed to just how he died is integral to our healing. I want to continue to take this devastating tragedy and share our story to be an advocate for those struggling in silence and to make something positive come from what we are going through.”
Along with hearing from Daugharty about the significant impact of mental illness on youth and young adults, those in attendance will also have access to live performances, a bake sale, arts and crafts, catered food, a patio bar and a raffle.
Kim Rossi, Director of Philanthropy and Public Relations at Pathstone Foundation, said the students’ efforts to contribute to local mental health and wellness were inspirational.
“We count on our community to help us reach our fundraising needs each year,” she said. “Students like Jess and Ishana are incredible examples of what philanthropy and generosity of spirit truly is. We are honoured and thankful that Pathstone was selected as one of the beneficiaries of Art and Soul Pop-up Patio. We wish them much success with their event.”
Sharma hopes Art and Soul’s attendees will be inspired to speak more openly about mental health following the event.
“Last year, I went through a period where I was not going to lecture or my job enough and I was too scared to talk about it,” she said. “There are lots of services out there, but if we don’t feel comfortable enough to share openly with each other then we can’t access the services.”
She would like to see people of all ages attend the event and be a part of the open dialogue and inclusive atmosphere.
In addition to encouraging a sense of change in the community, Sharma said the event is a valuable opportunity for learning outside the classroom.
“We are talking to a lot of people and making a lot of contacts,” she said. “It’s a confidence boost because this is more than just taking notes. You are taking an active part in your own education.”
Staging an event is a key portion of the University’s experiential education definitions and helps students to interact directly with the community while also building real-world skills.
Course Professor Michael Savage said the exercise is particularly relevant for Education students as they prepare for work in a classroom or other public setting.
“As future educators, it is very important that Concurrent Education students get an opportunity to take the theory and skills they are learning in their courses out into the wider society and engage with the community about important issues,” he said.