End­ing the stigma one tile at a time

Art stu­dents spread a mes­sage of hope

Record Observer - - FRONT PAGE - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — Coura­geous Marks is a multi-faceted Com­mu­nity Arts Project cre­ated by four Queen Anne’s County Pub­lic Schools art teach­ers to help raise men­tal health aware­ness in hope to eras­ing the stigma of­ten sur­round­ing peo­ple with men­tal health con­di­tions. The goal is to use art as a ve­hi­cle to start pos­i­tive con­ver­sa­tions, spread ed­u­ca­tion and make con­nec­tions with peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, they said.

The project started when art teach­ers Stephanie Zeiler, Cassie Hossler, Tim Goodger and Me­gan Spence at­tended a Mary­land Artistry in Teach­ing In­sti­tute over the sum­mer. Zeiler said there they were tasked to iden­tify a need they felt was in our com­mu­nity and to cre­ate a Com­mu­nity Arts Project that ad­dressed that need.

“We de­cided we want to use art as a ve­hi­cle to spread in­for­ma­tion, cre­ate pos­i­tive con­ver­sa­tions and build sup­port through­out the com­mu­nity,” said Zeiler.

The el­e­men­tary stu­dents, un­der in­struc­tion of Hossler and Spence, cre­ated step­ping stones around Char­ac­ter County Pil­lars to be placed at Church Hill and Grasonville el­e­men­tary schools. Queen Anne’s County High School stu­dents cre­ated (and are still cre­at­ing) ce­ramic tiles

with pos­i­tive mes­sages to be placed ran­domly through the com­mu­nity at some lo­cal busi­nesses and out­side around town.

At­tached to the tile is a card that reads, “Hi! You’ve found me. I’m yours to keep or pass on to some­one who might need a pos­i­tive mes­sage or who might have a men­tal health con­di­tion and needs to know they aren’t alone, and we care! I am part of a Com­mu­nity Arts Project and I was made by a stu­dent at QACHS. Our mis­sion is to help spread men­tal health aware­ness, us­ing art as a way to start con­ver­sa­tions and build com­mu­nity in hopes to erase the stigma of men­tal ill­ness!!”

Also on the card are QR Codes to the web­site and Face­book page — Coura­geous Marks — as well as links to both and to In­sta­gram and Twit­ter pages, ex­plained Zeiler. The web­site gives in­for­ma­tion on the over­all project and has a page list­ing lo­cal and na­tional agen­cies deal­ing with ed­u­ca­tion on men­tal health, and who pro­vide guid­ance and help.

“We not only are try­ing to build re­la­tion­ships with the school and com­mu­nity, but also within the school com­mu­nity,” said Zeiler. We had stu­dents teach­ing staff, to try and build more trust and sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ships so stu­dents feel they can go to an adult to talk if needed. We also had Ce­ramic stu­dents pair­ing with ESOL Stu­dents to teach them to cre­ate tiles, she said.

The goal in the next two years is to build col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high school stu­dents to de­sign and build bird baths to be dis­played in pub­lic places through­out the county.

The first tiles have been placed in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in Cen­tre­ville, and the group plans a sec­ond wave the first week of May for Mary­land’s Chil­dren’s Men­tal Health Aware­ness week.

As tiles are be­ing dis­cov­ered, the sto­ries are be­ing shared on Coura­geous Marks so­cial me­dia sites, the ac­count that fol­lows is just one story of how a sin­gle act can cre­ate a rip­ple ef­fect.

Our lo­cal McDonald’s part­nered with us, said one of Coura­geous Marks vol­un­teers, pro­vid­ing an area we could place tiles. Af­ter plac­ing my third one along the win­dow shelf, an em­ployee stopped me. He said he had found two around town. The man told me he saw the first one with love writ­ten on it. At first he thought it might have been some­thing a child left, then he said he thought bet­ter be­cause it was in an aban­doned store front. He picked it up and read it. He then took it and placed it on his par­ents’ grave. He found the sec­ond one, which a stu­dent cre­ated specif­i­cally for autism, in town. He col­lected and gave it to his friend whose brother has autism.

The tile was gifted to Amanda Kal­manow­icz; her brother Joe took it to the in­au­gu­ral Team Autism 5K in Church Hill. I was touched be­yond mea­sure, both that he thought of me and that QACHS was in­volved in such an amaz­ing pro­gram, said Kal­manow­icz.

As Coura­geous Marks con­tin­ues to be am­bas­sadors of men­tal health aware­ness and a bea­con of hope in the com­mu­nity, the founders want to re­mind others that of­ten times peo­ple bat­tling de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, or any other men­tal health con­di­tion lose faith be­cause of a lack of un­der­stand­ing of their con­di­tion or them­selves, or be­cause they don’t feel un­der­stood or sup­ported.

One thing we can do that doesn’t cost any money is to fos­ter faith in each other, as peo­ple in a com­mu­nity, as fel­low hu­man be­ings. Ig­nite some­one’s faith, be their sup­port, they said.

Don’t know how? Visit the web­site at coura­geous­marks. yol­a­site.com for lo­cal and na­tional agen­cies that pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and sup­port.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTOS

Coura­geous Marks is a multi-faceted Com­mu­nity Arts Project cre­ated by four Queen Anne’s County Pub­lic School Arts Teach­ers to help raise men­tal health aware­ness.

Tile cre­ated by Queen Anne’s County Schools art stu­dents reads, “You are Enough”.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Art stu­dents work to­gether to cre­ate tiles that will be left around the com­mu­nity to pro­mote men­tal health aware­ness and sup­port.

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