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By Susan Parmelee

The Wellness & Prevention Center believes that empowering youth is key to successful prevention efforts and building healthy communities.

In March, the center honors the young people who choose to make a difference in the lives of their peers and community. From campus clubs to community outreach, these youths have been making an impact.

What they have in common is empathy, compassion, and leadership. These young people take the time to learn how to listen, how to lead, how to be heard, how to impact the adults who teach them, and how to advocate for policy change.

In honor of her late brother, Lillie Ranson, a sophomore at San Juan Hills High School, started the Yellow4James club to break the stigma of mental illness. In May, her club will be launching a peer support program on campus.

Olivia McHenry, a senior at JSerra, has a passion for mental health that has only been fueled by COVID-19. She is involved in several student support clubs and serves on a youth leadership council in which she speaks on panels to increase awareness of youth mental health.

Thara Venkateswaran, a senior at Aliso Niguel High School, created a podcast as an outlet to discuss mental health and social issues. She believes that opening up important conversations both lowers stigma and supports peers.

Xavier Hassard-Johnson, a senior at San Clemente High School, has dedicated his time with the COA food connection at the Baha’i Center, serving 1,200 families a month.

Danny Flores, a junior at San Clemente High, also volunteers with the COA food connection, distributing both food and clothing to those in need. He has built houses for the homeless in Mexico and hopes to return to this work as soon as possible.

As president of Zero Trash Laguna, Uma Bhatia, a Laguna Beach High School junior, is dedicated to reducing pollution in her community through beach and city cleanups.

Dana Hills High School freshman Sofie Miller uses positivity as fuel to do the right thing to impact others. She strives to build equality among her student body by organizing campus events that promote diversity and connectedness.

JT Williams, a sophomore at Dana Hills High, serves as class president and encourages students to stay motivated and remember their “why.” He led his peers in adapting their homecoming traditions safely and successfully rallied all four grades of students to participate in staying connected to school. 

Students partner with Mission Hospital to run Strength in Numbers (SIN) OC clubs. These campus-based clubs support mental and physical health. At Capistrano Valley Hight School, Amelia Stark and Ryan Hansen, both juniors, are educating their peers on making healthy choices.

Maya Gallego, a senior at Laguna Beach High, encourages her peers to use positive coping strategies through her role as president of the club.

Please take some time to tell the young people in your life how much you appreciate their efforts. As competent and amazing as these young people are, they need our support as we work our way back to the post-pandemic world.

Follow us on our Instagram @wpcoc to see what else these amazing young individuals are doing.

Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at susan@wpc-oc.org.

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