Karen O’Connor and team from Therapaws explaining the many roles therapy dogs play, from visiting hospitals and senior centers to listening to children read.
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By Lonnie Huhman,

In what ways was Mental Health Matters useful to you?

“It taught me a lot about anxiety and how to handle stress.”


“It made me more aware of how many people struggle with mental health issues.”

“To really appreciate others, because you never know what they are going through.”

Those are some of the responses students gave to a question posed in a survey given to them after they participated in the Mill Creek Middle School program called, Mental Health Matters.

The program has received the 2019 Exemplary Educational Endeavors Award from the A2Y Regional Chamber.

“We are very excited at Mill Creek to receive this honor!” Mill Creek Social Worker Molly Kalick said. “Since the day of the program, we have received an outpouring of community support. Professionals, non-profit organizations, parents and community members have reached out with positive words about Mental Health Matters.”

As a background, Kalick said the A2Y Regional Chamber was seeking nominations for exemplary educational endeavors taking place in the area public schools.

The Ann Arbor / Ypsilanti Regional Chamber is a 1,200-member community organization that actively facilitates, educates and advocates on behalf of its members through our services and programs

One E³ Award trophy and a cash award, provided by a local community partner and the Foundation of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber, will be given in each of these school districts for an exemplary program: Ann Arbor Public Schools, Lincoln Consolidated Schools, Ypsilanti Community Schools, Out County District-One shared award for Chelsea School District, Dexter Community Schools, Manchester Community Schools, Milan Area Schools, Saline Area Schools, Whitmore Lake Public Schools, and Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

Mill Creek parent Christine Kowalski, who is also an Epidemiologist and Implementation Scientist for the Center for Clinical Management Research at the University of Michigan, wrote a letter commending the program. This letter was provided to The Sun Times News and this story has just a few of her remarks.

“Dear E3 Award / Committee, I am writing in commendation of an award for E3 Program Awards. I feel the efforts put forth by Molly Kalick, the Dexter Community Schools, and Mill Creek staff who made the all-day mental health day possible for all Mill Creek students, were exceptional,” Kowalski wrote.

In writing what it did for her daughter, Kowalski said, “She told us that she had been given a choice of sessions to attend including focus on anxiety, depression, meditation, relaxation, self-talk, and self-care. She reenacted a chakra, along with dance moves, that really resonated with her. She came away with language and skills that reminded her that she is powerful and strong and brave. She learned how to speak compassionately to others and importantly, to notice signs of mental health struggles in herself or others, and what to do in that event, such as reaching out to any trusted adult.”

“Given what she discussed, I personally feel this may have been the most important day of the year for all the students at Mill Creek,” she wrote.   

Kalick said Mental Health Matters, “was prepared as a day of conversation and activity for all 560 of our seventh- and eighth-grade students at Mill Creek Middle School.”

She said this was the first year of the program and it came about with help from the Educational Foundation of Dexter. She said the Educational Foundation sent out information to Dexter Community Schools about their winter grant submission cycle and Mill Creek jumped at the opportunity.

“Our goal for the daylong conference-style program was to bring awareness to our students about the importance of taking an active role in their own positive mental health,” she said. “Research tells us that there exist many evidence-based actions that children can take in their day-to-day life to reduce instances of stress and anxiety, and we invited partners from our greater community to join us and help us show and tell our students why their emotional well-being is key to their success in school and beyond.”

In her letter to the committee, Mill Creek Principal Jami Bronson said, “The key themes communicated to students throughout the day were that we all have to work to maintain and improve mental health. Every student has a story and challenges unique to themselves. We need to move past the stigma that mental health problems carry with it. Most importantly, that we are all in this together and we all want to help and support one another.”

In answering how it impacted the school, Kalick said,”Talking about mental health can be difficult. We wanted to remind students that Mill Creek is a safe space where their experiences and questions and ideas are not only welcome, but also a place where they can be validated.”

She said, “We hope that by allowing for a safe space to talk about mental health issues that may seem daunting or confusing, students will see the diversity in the experiences of students around them. When we take the time to create community and connection, everyone benefits.”

Another survey question asked students, what is something new you learned from Mill Creek’s Mental Health Matters program?

One student answered, “That things can be happening to other people that you cannot see.”