Like so many other teenagers, Sarah Liu was insecure about her self-image. And as a student at Lexington High School, she found the pressure of rigorous classwork only added to her stress and anxiety.
But Liu found comfort in knowing she wasn’t alone. His classmates were also struggling to maintain their mental health, and despite the school’s efforts to help them, the students continued to struggle.
Liu, 18, realized that many of her peers struggled to cope with their struggles due to the stigma of mental health issues. To tackle the problem, Liu is working to ensure the next generation of elementary school students don’t internalize the same stigma through Project Firefly, an ongoing Girl Scout project she started in 2020. .
Throughout 2021, Liu hosted 30 virtual seminars focused on age-appropriate mental health education with more than 200 elementary school-aged attendees in 12 states. Thanks to her efforts, she is part of the Gold Award class of 2022 – the most prestigious award in girl scouting. Liu received the Gold Award scholarship and has been recognized locally and nationally.
“Mental health education usually starts when you’re in high school after internalizing all that stigma,” said Liu, now a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley. “So I thought if younger kids could be targeted with accurate information, it might end the stigma before it started and people might have a healthier view of mental health.”
Barbara Fortier, CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, said Liu’s project is special because of the mental health crisis facing children and teens. With the help of about 10 other students, Liu created the Firefly project – symbolizing the ability of students to create collective change by each bringing their own light – as the pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues for many. Fortier said the project has a unique sense of passion and dedication, as it centers on an issue that Liu has struggled with personally.
“I can’t think of a more amazing example of courage, confidence and character to tackle something [when Liu] probably faced some of the stigma that she’s trying to eliminate,” Fortier said. “Having that kind of courage and determination to help others is just a testament to the depth and breadth of his character.”
Fortier said young women like Liu are inspiring for their deep dedication to bettering their communities, and Girl Scouts like Liu often become lifelong movers and shakers.
“Our Gold Award girls tend to drive a little harder, they push themselves further,” Fortier said. “What they do is just fascinating.”
To ensure Project Firefly’s informative seminars were age-appropriate, accurate and engaging, Liu interviewed child therapists and 10 elementary school teachers. With their guidance and input from other students involved in her project, she produced a curriculum educating children on topics such as body image, stress, self-esteem, sexual orientation, depression, etc., and presented the material to groups of young people using slideshow presentations.
Liu said she plans to continue hosting local seminars with young people in her college community after witnessing the shift in perception that her seminars have already fostered for young children. At the start of a seminar with 8- and 9-year-old participants, Liu said children’s understanding of mental health issues is “when you’re crazy and have to lie in a bed in a hospital all the time. . ”
By the end of the seminar, the children understood that problems can be “caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, as well as environmental factors. And [that] there are medications and treatment plans for people struggling with mental health issues,” Liu said.
Those interested in scheduling a free presentation of the Firefly Project can contact Liu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ms Liu said she was honored that her project had gained visibility, and she hopes its success will enable other Women and Girl Scouts to pursue their passions and make a difference in their own communities.
“I really hope to use my platform to show other young women that their visions can come to life,” Liu said. “I think if there’s something you’re passionate about, there’s always something you can do, no matter how big or small it is.”
Katie Mogg can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter @journalistkation
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