Stepping Stones for Mental Health
By Ashley Awe
Photos by Israel Valencia, Infinity Visuals
It seems like everywhere we turn, we hear about the mental health crisis our teens are facing. It is no wonder that so many of us feel worried for the young people in our lives and powerless to help them. We cannot fix every dilemma our teens are facing or prepare them for every issue they’ll come across in the future. But we can give them the tools and empower them to take control of their mental health. As they learn to express themselves and understand that they are not alone, they inspire others to also take control of their wellness.
Throughout this past winter and spring, twenty teens from Mentis’ countywide Teen Council worked with local artist Kristina Young to create a series of mosaic tile stepping stones with mental health and wellness themes, sharing messages of hope and healing, acceptance and inclusiveness, and the importance of caring for self and others. Funded by a collaborative grant from This is My Brave and Arts Council Napa Valley, teens met with Kristina over the course of a few months to design their tiles and learn how to translate their designs into mosaic works of art. Late this spring, teens met for an afternoon production session with Kristina and her photographer husband, Israel Valencia, who helped with production and documented the process throughout the months-long project. After a debut showcase at the Napa County Library on April 30, the stones were planted at Napa County high schools from American Canyon to Calistoga, reminding teens of the breadth of the community of which they are a part. Stepping stones are literally grounding, and teens will be reminded of the importance of their own mental health when they view the inspiring messages on the stones.
“The impact of a project like this is immeasurable,” explains Mentis Prevention Director and Teens Connect founder Jeni Olsen. “It benefits not only the teens who designed and created the tiles, but also high school students and school staff from all over the county who will see these mosaic stepping stones and resonate with the messages.”
The stones share messages including, “You Are Not Alone,” “You Matter,” “Have Hope,” and, “After the Storm, the Flowers Bloom.” Most of the stones contain messages in both English and Spanish, and the stone designed for American Canyon High School includes a message in Tagalog, because this is a primary language spoken in American Canyon. Stones can be found in school gardens at American Canyon High, Napa High, Vintage High, New Technology High, Justin-Siena High, Valley Oak High, Camille Creek Community School, Napa Valley Independent Studies, St. Helena High, Calistoga High and Napa Valley College. While each stepping stone has a unique design and color scheme, they all share a border of yellow tiles, which is Mentis’ brand color and also symbolizes a yellow brick road connecting all Napa Valley teens and their journey to mental wellness. The Mentis prevention team chose mosaic art as the medium for this project because of its meditative and healing creative process. It is also easy to learn and precludes perfectionism, providing access to youth who may not have had prior art experience.
“Mentis teens really embraced the concept of this project and the message that they were sharing with future teens. The final stones are colorful with strong designs and positive messages, and seeing the teens take pride in the work they did makes me so happy,” says Kristina Young.
The mental health crisis among teens is likely unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes. Having never lived through a global pandemic, it’s impossible to predict its lasting effects on psychosocial health. It is vital that we provide opportunities for youth to connect with each other and learn tools for wellness, including art and self-expression.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we at Mentis can think of no better way to celebrate it than to listen to the young people in our community who are passionate mental health advocates. To view all the stepping stones created by our talented teens, please visit the Teens Connect Instagram page @teensconnectnapa. To learn more about the work Mentis is doing in the community, please visit MentisNapa.org.