ST. ALBANS — Two years ago, students and staff committed to making mental health conversations a regular part of the BFA St. Albans experience. The high school partnered with Hope Happens Here, an organization started by Saint Michael’s college athletes.

“On the way home from a funeral of a friend, some hockey players came up with the need to form a group to talk about mental health awareness for athletes,” explained BFA educator Mary Brouillette.

HHH doesn’t graduate: McKenna Remillard (BFA Class of 2019) was a founding member of the BFA HHH. She is currently studying nursing and playing hockey at the University of New England.

“After AJ (Holzscheiter) passed away, we were all supporting each other. Hearing about HHH resonated with me. Mental health has a big stigma around it, but it’s so important to have people from every class and every age hear the message and break the stigma,” said Remillard.

Remillard worked alongside Brouillette and BFA athletic director Dan Marlow to establish HHH.

“I looked up to them as great people in school, and they shaped my life--both directly and indirectly. I plan to pay that forward.”

Emma Bapp uses her writing to spread the message. ”Writing is a good way to communicate what I’ve been so passionate about. When I heard about HHH, I knew it could help a lot of people and change peoples’ outlook on mental health.”

Learning to help others: Loghan Hughes, a multi-sport athlete at BFA St. Albans, enjoys having a place to learn how she can help others.

“The biggest thing was seeing how mental health affected my friends and their performance. They had no one to talk to, and I wanted to learn how to help make their season or day better,” said Hughes.

BFA senior Maren McGinn joined HHH her sophomore year. ”I didn’t know a lot about mental health, but I wanted to learn more. Even if I didn’t struggle with it, I wanted to help other people,” said McGinn.

“Feeling and knowing that I’m not alone--no one is alone, brings a sense of comfort. I feel safer knowing that there are people out there to others who are struggling.”

Virtual assemblies spread the word during Covid times. Jenelle Hardy, a junior, joined HHH her freshman year. Hardy has enjoyed the virtual HHH assemblies this year.

“I’ve seen how this pandemic can be hard for people. It’s difficult not seeing your friends every day and having that support. It’s good to have assemblies that everyone can watch; people need that right now.”

Hannah Hisman, also a junior, joined the group her freshman year. ”I moved to the area and didn’t know anyone. I wanted to take part in something I believed in, and I knew a lot of people who were struggling,” said Hisman.

“Seeing how people connect with the group and the effect it’s having is powerful. There’s a change happening, and it’s positively affecting people.”

In the fall of 2019, Hisman was part of an HHH event at a BFA home game.

“When I went into the stands after selling raffle tickets and t-shirts, I heard a lot of people talking about what we were doing and how the change needed to happen.”

HHH has made big steps in a small amount of time. “We’ve done so much in a short time, and I know students think this is a safe place,” said Brouillette.

BFA’s HHH chapter has hosted mental health awareness games (pre-Covid), hosted virtual assemblies (since Covid) and Mental Health Mondays.

“We’ve had to get creative with Covid, but there’s such a need right now with everything we have going on with the pandemic,” said Brouillette.

“We want people to know that you don’t have to carry the load by yourself. We all struggle, and we just need to say that out loud: it’s okay to not be okay.”

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