Humanitarian and tennis star Arthur Ashe once said that to make a difference, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” Six months after my sister, Jana Marie Vicere, committed suicide, I realized the importance of this message. I had the opportunity to help the State College community by sharing Jana’s story and implementing programs to assist teens and their families. In February 2012, I launched the Jana Marie Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
The foundation’s mission is to empower 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.
Our educational programs work with schools and communities to combat depression, substance abuse, suicide and related social challenges by building support networks and giving community members access to relevant resources and information. We implemented the “Straight Talk for Parents” seminars in partnership with the State College Area School District, Communities that Care and the Centre County Youth Services Bureau. These monthly seminars address a wide variety of topics faced by parents and their children in today’s high pressure society.
In 2013, during National Suicide Prevention Week, we worked with the county commissioners to declare Sept. 10 Centre County Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day. We also collaborated with the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to host an evening of hope, healing and remembrance for local residents.
Our scholarship and award programs fund opportunities for young women in middle and senior high to express themselves through artistic and creative endeavors. During the 2012-2013 school year, we granted two scholarships to young women enabling them to attend local classes in the arts. We are accepting applications for another round of scholarships. In addition, we are collaborating with the Delta program, Jana’s former school, to honor a female student’s artistic and creative achievements with the Jana Marie Foundation Creative Expression Award. And each year, as part of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, we sponsor an Italian Street Festival Square, which gives young artists an opportunity to execute and showcase their talent.
As we begin our third year, I couldn’t be more excited. Among our activities, we are partnering with Penn State’s Susan Russell, a professor of theater, and Kikora Franklin, an associate professor of theater and dance, to create an educational performance that will explore depression, mental health, and suicide prevention through drama and dance. This production will be shared with the community, local school districts and beyond. We also are a sponsor for the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk April 27.
While our work will never bring Jana back, I believe the Jana Marie Foundation can inspire the community to end the stigma around mental health issues and help prevent other families from dealing with the heartache of suicide. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.janamariefoundation.org, or Facebook at www.facebook.com/janamariefoundation.
Marisa Vicere Brown is president and founder of Jana Marie Foundation. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.