Heroes for Hope tackles mental health

Nicholas Cacioppo

Herald Staff Writer

During a series of weekly lessons put on by Tomorrow’s Ideas Today (TomTod), six young students at Norton Middle School stepped up to tackle mental health issues in their community in a big way. 

TomTod is a regional organization that works to empower youth to make positive changes in their communities. Through the first half of the 2019-2020 school year, TomTod Adventure Curator Patrick Gerber worked with students to identify key problems they saw in their community and to brainstorm real, practical solutions. The Heroes for Hope team chose to address mental health issues because many in the group, like Chloe Womble, know firsthand the toll that mental health problems can take on individuals and families. 

The TomTod group collectively came up with the idea for a Mental Health Pathway where Nortonites of all ages could practice healthy emotional coping mechanisms. On their own initiative, and owing to their desire to “just help people” struggling with mental health issues, the students approached educators to make their plan a reality. School Counselor Dr. Jessica Russo helped the students rein in their imaginations and come up with a practical plan while teacher Megan Zita worked to iron out the finer details of the proposal. The planned pathway will snake around the Columbia Woods pond and through a portion of the woods. Dotted along the trail will be benches engraved with positive messages and accompanying signs detailing  activities for coping with stress, being mindful and more. Flower gardens surrounding a community gathering spot will sit on the pond’s peninsula.

The group has laid out their proposal to city lawmakers and has gained support for their project from council members, the mayor, school administration, parents and others in the community. Now the group has turned towards funding the project, expected to cost around $10,000. They are working with lawmakers to secure appropriate funding and grants for the project, and plan to cover remaining expenses through sign and bench sponsorships, fundraisers and donations from the community. One Boy Scout has already pledged to raise funds covering the installation of the community gathering spot and flower beds. Businesses, organizations and individuals interested in making the Mental Health Pathway a reality or wanting to share their ideas should contact Dr. Russo by email at jrusso@nortonschools.org.