By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – The 2019 SHINE Summit was held at Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury April 9. Executive Director Fred Kaelin welcomed approximately 150 attendees from over a dozen high schools in central Mass.
The SHINE Initiative began 2003 when directors and employees of Fidelity Bank recognized the need for meaningful dialogue and information-sharing related to mental illness. Since then, SHINE has become a leader in recognizing mental illness in children and young adults.
The summit began with keynote speaker Ashley Bendiksen, an award-winning activist known as a life empowerment coach and, in criminal justice circles, as an advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention.
She shared her story and her personal experiences with unhealthy dating relationships that shaped the trajectory of her life and who she is today.
“I think sometimes sharing a personal story is the best way to get a really good idea of what an issue actually is,” Bendiksen said. “But I’m also really excited to share part of my after story which is a story of redemption.
“When you stay in these relationships not only is it unhealthy and leads to more abuse, but it’s incredibly damaging to you as a person,” she added.
Deb Goodwell and Shannon Doyle, parent chaperones from West Boylston Middle High School, said that they were impressed with the program and that Bendiksen was a dynamic speaker and hit upon some important points.
“This is our second time attending this conference and the kids are excited to learn new information and connect with other people,” remarked Goodwell.
Students had a choice to attend two of three breakout topics about teen dating and relationships, vaping, and transitioning to college and mental health.
Luke Valleli’s takeaway was that exercising and going outside for fresh air were good coping mechanisms and could be a good reset to get back to a good place mentally. He is a freshman from Tahanto Regional High School.
Kaelene Dufalt, also from Tahanto, said that the talk on vaping was very eye-opening and she knows a lot of people who vape but never thought how bad it was until today.
“I think this event helps Saint John’s students because there are so many schools involved, they get to look out of their everyday environment and see that all of these other kids are talking about the same things, going through the same things and hear the other kids speak. They realize that they are not alone,” noted Jessika Zequeira, community education specialist with the SHINE Initiative.
At the end of the morning, students reconvened and shared stories about their own mental health initiatives, hoping to inform and inspire others in the audience.