At City of Hope, the mental and emotional health of patients is just as important as the physical. It's a place where doctors, nurses and psychosocial support experts treat the whole person — not just his or her disease.
With the help of City of Hope’s Community Benefit Department and their Healthy Living Grant Program
, this philosophy is quickly making its way out into the community, with various organizations encouraged to promote mental health awareness and support
By lending financial and technical support to organizations already out in the field making a difference, City of Hope’s Healthy Living Grant Program has helped community gardens grow, kids walk to school safely and early-risers get in a little exercise before most other people’s days have begun.
Every year, the program awards $5,000 grants to organizations that can demonstrate not-so-ordinary, sustainable and collaborative approaches to promoting healthy living.
“We started the Healthy Living Grant Program because we wanted to find a way to support the work of those who were already doing great healthy things in the communities we serve. We thought that we should look at those community groups who seemed poised take their efforts to the next level,” explained Nancy Clifton-Hawkins, Community Benefit manager at City of Hope.
“In addition to financial support, we provide intense technical assistance in the area of program evaluation so that, in the end, these groups can learn how to tell their story and leverage that story to get more grants and sustain their programs," she continued. "It is based on the funding philosophy that small is beautiful. You can do great things with a little bit of money and even more with great technical support."
One 2015/2016 grantee was the San Gabriel High School Business and Technology Academy for its Health and Wellness Initiative, a student-led program seeking to enhance health-related knowledge and behavior in vulnerable communities in the San Gabriel Valley.
As participants in the Healthy Living Grant Program, students at the school spent the year working on several group projects intended to improve the health of their fellow classmates.
While most of the students chose to focus on physical health, one group of 11th graders chose to tackle a trickier topic — mental health.
For their project, Abigail Garcia, Emma Khem, Yaileen Cruz, Cindy Tran and Arlyne Rizo created a self-love project in order to raise awareness about how self-esteem impacts mental health and provide assistance to students whose low self-esteem was affecting their mental health.
After polling their fellow classmates and asking if they disliked their bodies, the group found some surprising results — 56 percent of freshman, 32 percent of sophomores and 80 percent of seniors and juniors all responded that they disliked their bodies. They also discovered that social media and family members were major influences on how positively or negatively respondents viewed themselves and their bodies.
Discovering that the majority of their fellow juniors held such negative views about their appearance, and having struggled with self-esteem issues from time to time themselves, the Self-Love Club swung into action.
For their project, the group planned three workshops featuring activities and resources created by Garcia to encourage and empower attendees.
“During one workshop, we did a positive self-talk activity where everyone partnered up and just complimented each other. Little things like that can really make a big difference,” said Garcia.
More than anything, the students wanted their fellow classmates to feel supported and know that they weren’t alone.
“We are always here for whoever needs help. If someone doesn’t want to reach out to us in person because they’re embarrassed, they can find us on social media. They don’t have to feel like they’re so alone in this because they’re not. And that’s always the case. There is always help if you just look for it,” said Tran.
Their hard work and dedication paid off when the group won second place in the 11th grade projects. But their real prize came from helping their peers see themselves in a new light.
“I want people to know that it’s OK to not always feel OK with yourself. Yes, we’re not all perfect all the time, but we can always be perfect in our own way — in a way that we can actually accept ourselves and love who we are, both on the outside and on the inside,” said Garcia.
The students managed to secure over 100 pledges from their classmates, promising to love themselves and to not put themselves and others down.
With over 100 lives touched, these self-love crusaders plan to turn their grant project into an official club, and look forward to even more success next year.
In the end, these young women showed themselves, their classmates and the community benefit advisory board that, indeed, small is beautiful.
Their message of self-love is a valuable one, and the important work of these extraordinary young women is a great reminder that no matter what you’re going through, be it a cancer battle or the challenges of high school, self-acceptance is key and your mental health should always be a priority.