On Oct. 12, the Center for Social Change and Community Involvement hosted an event with the Social Change Living Learning Community to engage students with the topic of mental health. Students gathered in Akin Hall’s lounge to write letters to people struggling with mental illness through a program called Letters Against Depression.
Participants logged onto a website where they could see people that had signed up to receive a letter. Each volunteer chose a recipient and then wrote a two-page letter to them discussing the recipient’s story, which were included in profiles, and providing encouraging, hopeful messages.
Vasty Jean François ’25 was the primary leader of the event. He highlighted the necessity of allowing students to create an impact beyond Lewis & Clark.
“We give the students an opportunity to connect with these people and their stories,” Jean François ’25 said. “It connects students with people from outside the LC community.”
Forging connections between the college and the wider community is a founding principle of The Center, which promotes engagement in social change at both the local and national levels.
At the event, students gathered around tables, writing letters and spending time with each other. Dahlia Linkow ’27 attended the event because of her passion for supporting people.
“It’s important to let them know they are not alone, and even when it does feel lonely they have someone there,” she said.
This was the first event hosted by The Center that Linkow had attended, and she believes that offering workshops related to specific social issues may attract new volunteers like herself to become involved with The Center.
Marta Alpresa Balaguer ’27, another participant, enjoyed how the event fostered community.
“I think letters are a very good way to connect with people and I like to use words to express my emotions and understand others’ emotions,” she said.
Alpresa Balaguer made an effort to get to know those at her table, using the event as an opportunity to meet others with similar interests.
She also agreed with Jean François, noting that the event offered an opportunity to try something new within a supportive environment.
“This is a very relevant activity that makes us connect with the community and go outside of our comfort zone,” she said.
That emotional commitment can be the driving factor in making a difference in someone’s life.
“Not only does trauma affect so many aspects of our lives, but having someone to read your story, to feel like your story is being heard and have someone empathize with you, feels good,” Jean François said.
Jean François emphasized that it was one of the most successful iterations of the workshop since he began hosting them.
“It’s probably one of the most attended Letters Against Depression events we’ve had in the past year,” he said. “I’ve done this a couple times last year and the turnout was not that great. This year I’m happy to see more people show up and more people show interest and be a part of the change we need to make in our community and in someone else’s life.”
Towards the end of the event, Jean François invited the attendees to make their own self-care bags. Students placed candy, face masks, stress balls and tea bags into small paper bags to take home.
The Center serves the LC community by offering volunteer opportunities and leadership development experiences to undergraduate and graduate students.
“We have a number of programs to prepare LC students and grad students to engage impactfully both locally and globally in order to obtain active citizenship and social change,” Jean François said.
The Center is one of the only on-campus organizations that explicitly serves both graduate and undergraduate students.
On their website, The Center lists their key values as “civic engagement, social change, and global learning.”
“Part of the center philosophy is trying to uplift leadership as a critical part of education here at Lewis & Clark,” Jean François said.
To support this specific goal, The Center developed L&C LEADS, a program which aims to cultivate leadership skills in students through workshops.
“We engage in a process of intentional leadership development,” Jean François said of L&C LEADS.
This event is one of many that The Center uses as a way to establish mental health support at LC and nationally. In addition, they have many other opportunities for students to get involved. Upcoming events include “BANNED,” a forum on Oct. 26 to discuss the attacks on Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies which will take place in Stamm Auditorium, and a volunteer night at the Blanchet House, a Portland charity operating out of a cafe. More information can be found on their website.