A group of seventh-grade girls formed the Island Friends Junior Guild.

In March 2015, a group of seventh-grade girls from Mercer Island came up with the idea of starting a guild to support Seattle Children’s, the Island Friends Junior Guild. They banded together and picked a cause they rarely hear their peers talk about, but believe could use a little more support: mental health.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, members of the Island Friends Junior Guild are sharing their story to help inspire others to end the stigma around mental health and raise awareness for Seattle Children’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine Unit (PBMU).

“The PBMU doesn’t get much attention,” said Tara Manhas, an Island Friends Junior Guild member. “Mental health isn’t really seen as a positive thing. There’s a negative stigma around it. We want to change that.”

Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association is the largest all-volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the nation. In total, there are 450 different guilds that raise money for the hospital, and out of all 450 guilds, one exclusively supports the PBMU.

“It’s an important part of the hospital,” said Manhas. “We take pride in it.”

Raising money and awareness

Last year, the guild’s first event raised $4,000 for the PBMU. Guild members hosted a fundraiser for Mercer Island middle school students and more than 150 teens attended to support the newly formed guild and their cause.

“It makes me feel good that they’re empathetic towards a cause that can be difficult to talk about,” said Sonia Manhas about her daughter’s involvement in the guild. “Sometimes you don’t see that something is wrong with someone. Some kids may be struggling with depression or anxiety. There’s a lot of anxiety that goes into being a teenager. What they’re doing is much bigger than they realize.”

BraceletThis year, they are planning to use a bracelet with a few simple, but inspiring words to reinforce a positive message around mental health. The bracelet reads, in bright orange letters, “positive mind, positive vibes.”

“They are peers leading peers, which can be very impactful,” said Dr. Kelly Schloredt, leader of the CONNECT Program and former clinical director of Seattle Children’s PBMU. “They are not only increasing awareness, but their efforts are breaking down barriers. They are a powerful group of young ladies who realize there is a need and are working to address it. Together, they’re saying we want to find ways to help and support our peers, instead of turning the other way.”

Sales from the bracelets will be donated to the PBMU, and they are hoping to raise another $4,000.

“They are helping people recognize we’re all human,” said Schloredt. “We all have struggles. For some people those struggles are physical, but for others they may be more emotional or behavioral.”

The Island Friends Junior Guild, now eighth-graders, are hoping to continue the guild through their senior year of high school. Eventually, they’d like to expand their efforts and host more events.

“We are honored to be supported by these incredible young women,” said Ann Moore, director of the PBMU. “We’re committed to meeting the needs of the community, and the generosity of these young ladies, and others like them, is key in helping us accomplish that goal. We feel really honored. They said to us, ‘We believe in what you do.’ I feel their support every day.”

If you’re interested in donating to the PBMU, visit our donate page and note you’d like your gift to support the PBMU.