Can a banana brighten a student’s day?
It can, if a recent fundraising event at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre is any indication.
The yellow-themed event, hosted by students in the public relations program in partnership with the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench foundation, was designed to raise awareness of mental health issues. Participants were asked to write positive messages for other students on bananas while sipping on lemonade and eating yellow candy. As well, the centre’s foyer was decorated with yellow balloons, streamers and tablecloths.
Why yellow? That’s the colour of the Story Arts Centre’s “friendship bench”, as well as similar benches at 50 other schools across Canada. The benches carry a plaque advertising www.yellowisforhello.org, and if students who visit the website on their devices have location tracking turned on, the website will list mental health resources available at their school.
Money raised at the March 27 event will be used to purchase a friendship bench for Keyin College’s campus in Marystown, N.L. That campus is undergoing a mental health crisis, according to Mobolaji Adeyemi, a public relations student at Centennial who helped organize the event.
“This is a very, very small community,” he said. “The population of the school is also very small. Right now they are in the middle of a mental health epidemic.”
Sam Fiorella, co-founder of the non-for-profit friendship bench corporation, says it goes hand in hand with the #YellowIsForHello campaign.
“The bench is a permanent reminder or representation of the campaign,” Fiorella said after the event. “Our campaign is to encourage students to talk to each other about mental health (and) remove the stigma, so that those who are suffering in silence are more likely to go and speak to a professional.”
The #YellowIsForHello campaign encourages students to say hello to strangers and classmates and to be open and accepting when discussing anxiety, depression and mental health issues.
The bench initiative is named after Sam’s son Lucas Fiorella, a Carleton University student who died of suicide in October 2014. Some of Lucas Fiorella’s high school and university friends reported that he reached out to them when they had anxiety or depression, and that he prevented some students from dropping out of school or committing suicide.
“He started every one of those conversations with a hello, just out of the blue; went up to them and said hello,” Sam Fiorella said during the East York event. “My son taught us that one hello can start a conversation that can save a life… feeling depressed, feeling anxious is completely normal. What’s not OK is not talking about it.”
Adeyemi agrees with the message.
“Now I actively check on my classmates, even random strangers,” he said. “I then find the feedback I get can go from ‘Oh, I’m well’, or someone just starts in some rant that I wasn’t expecting, and they start telling me about different things they were going through.”