Visalia Leadership class spreads their wings, highlights mental health

The Leadership Visalia Class of 2022-2023 is set to build a rest area and have a mural painted in support of youth mental health awareness

VISALIA – This year’s Leadership Visalia class spread their wings to Rawhide Stadium with plans to construct a community project for youth who struggle with mental health post-pandemic.

The Leadership Visalia class of 2022-23 is now in its fundraising phase for their next community project. This April, they will be constructing a reflection area set up with benches for people to rest at, and a mural will be painted right behind it. Surrounded by a flower bed, the rest area will also feature a billboard with mental health resources on it. The mural will feature a series of butterfly wings, which is a symbol for the betterment of youth mental health.

“This project is just extremely important to us, we’re putting our best efforts into bringing a complete project to serve the community, primarily for the youth. But obviously, it’ll be open to anyone,” class member and project fundraiser Sharise Van Dam said. “We just want mental health to become a topic that people are comfortable discussing.”

Van Dam said that they will be working alongside muralist Colleen Mitchell-Veyna and Venya Design Studio. Mitchell-Venya painted her very first mural in Exeter in 1995, but fast forward years laters and she has now painted over 200 murals to date. The entire project will be located inside Rawhide Stadium. The mural will not only feature butterfly wings, but there will also be a baseball diamond painted behind it. Van Dam said that they are hoping community members and students will be able to enjoy the area and find space to reflect.

“Anyone that is visiting the stadium can visit the mural and take pictures [with the butterfly wings],” Van Dam said. “A big factor was to be able to take pictures with it and also have an open conversation about mental health.”

A large driving force behind this project was the children of many class members. After the pandemic, parents within the group began to notice that their children and friends had been experiencing mental health issues to a higher degree. Van Dam said that students are struggling after experiencing so much change to everyday life, it can be difficult to find their way back into society and feel “safe, seen and heard.”

“As a class, we sat down and we started brainstorming ideas of what we wanted our community project to be centered around. Mental health came up so much,” Van Dam said. “Especially for youth, there’s been several of us in the class that have been touched by either children of our own or friends and family that have children that are struggling with mental health issues.”

This project will be funded by community members as well, and Van Dam said that they are still seeking out donations for the project. The class has been going around town to different businesses and stakeholders in order to get the funds rolling so that they can complete the project by mid-April. The class is also accepting donations from individuals who would like to give on behalf of the project as well.

“We need to address what these poor young souls are having to go through,” Van Dam said. “They’re trying to get back into a community, into schools and into their everyday life when it was stripped from them so quickly.”

This comes after the Center of Disease Control reported that 37%, roughly a third of high school students, throughout the country have experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. Not only that, the effects of poor mental health are only growing among high school students, with 44% reporting poor mental health in 2022. Van Dam said that it is a huge priority in their club to use this space to highlight these students who are facing battles with their mental health.

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