An infectious laugh. A contagious smile. A personality that lights up the room. We can all think of someone who can fit this description. For me, it was my sister, Jana.

The memories still dance in my head. Her long brown hair flowing behind her as she walked, the late-night talks about nonsense and her undeniable desire to help others. There is no shortage of positive, happy memories.

There also is no shortage of memories of when times were tough. Despite being surrounded by love from her family and friends, a darkness loomed inside her. A side she tried to hide from so many under the many layers of masks she wore.

Mental and emotional health are equally as important as physical well-being; yet stigma and shame surround the topics making them taboo to discuss. That is why Jana Marie Foundation has made as its mission to increase protective factors for young people and raise awareness for mental wellness and suicide prevention.

Since our inception five years ago, Jana Marie Foundation has empowered young people, especially young women, to make positive choices, practice self-respect, and maintain healthy relationships by providing opportunities for personal growth and creative expression.

Young people need opportunities to find and express themselves in healthy ways. Studies have shown that art and creative endeavors promote dialogue, reduce stress and anxiety, increase self-awareness, and improve overall mental, physical and emotional well-being. Jana Marie Foundation works tirelessly to create unique programming where young people can pursue their creative passions, release their feelings, and learn healthy ways to cope with the tough transitional years.

We also know that for parents, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Today’s middle and high school students face growing social pressures including bullying, drugs and alcohol, sex, self-harming, anxiety, and depression. Well-informed parents and caregivers are the first line of defense. Too often, parents and caregivers don’t know where to turn to find the resources and information they need to help their children. The Foundation ventures to fill that void, providing them access to sources of information, and support and assistance through programs like our web-based Candid Conversations videos.

At a time when our local teens are reporting stress and anxiety levels higher than the statewide average, it’s crucial that we light the way toward hope, healing and personal growth. By raising awareness of mental and emotional health issues, making resources available to parents, providing unique programming for youth, and demonstrating that no one is alone in their personal struggle, we believe we can help to enhance the overall mental and emotional health of our entire community.