NAMI hosts poetry reading to bring awareness to mental illness

POETRY—Patricia Fonseca, an active member of the National Awareness for Mental Illness Club, read a poem “Footprints” by Mark Hargrave last week during a poetry read in an effort to get more students aware of the club. CN/ Bryan Pedroza

By Maria Gonzalez and William Hernandez

Students had an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings through poetry this past Wednesday.

NAMI on Campus, a student chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, gathered in the open space between P2 and S2 buildings to let students recite poetry. Students were able to recite their own or the work of others.

Part of the mission of NAMI on Campus is to educate and increase awareness among the East Los Angeles College community about mental illness. “We want to bring awareness to mental illness, and help people learn how to cope with it through a creative side,” said Jake Stephens, president of NAMI on Campus.

Stephens is a Vietnam veteran who has found an open space to express, through poetry, the post-traumatic stress he gained from war. He explains there are some poems he has written, but hasn’t been able to read out loud because of the effect it has on him. Amy Than, who is the historian of the club, read a poem and later said, “I think it’s a great way to express myself because I feel like I have a voice.”

The club was established in 2008 when a student brought up the idea of having a NAMI chapter at ELAC to Tiffany Rice, a psychology instructor. ELAC is the only school in the Los Angeles Community College District to have a NAMI Club.  Rice became the adviser of the club. She started the club with a small group of interested students.

Maria Monroy, current ELAC student and vice-president of the club said, “the power of words is crucial when speaking to a person, and understanding them can do so much for them.  It can make their day.” Monroy joined NAMI on Campus so she can reach out to people and help them in any way possible. She encourages other students to join saying, “If we were all aware and willing to understand mental illnesses, our whole community would be a lot better.”

NAMI on Campus also participates in a fundraiser walk called NAMIWalks every year. It takes place in Santa Monica and joins numerous NAMI clubs from Los Angeles County. NAMIWalks is an event to raise money for people who are mentally ill and bring attention to the public about the issue of mental illness.

NAMI on Campus’ goal is being proactive about reaching out to students to break the stigma about mental illness. Monroy also mentioned that there’s more than meets the eye with mental illness. “Being mentally ill isn’t just a neurological problem, it can be a psychological issue,” Monroy said. The club meets every Thursday from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in F7-224.

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