Sister Uses Tragedy to Help Young People in State College Area
When it comes down to it – it's about taking loss and grief and turning it into something positive.
In 2011, Marisa Brown lost her 30-year-old sister, Jana Marie Vicere, to suicide. It was a devastating loss. Brown, not wanting others to suffer a similar loss, took her grief and turned it into something good.
Eight months after her sister's death, Brown founded The Jana Marie Foundation. Today the organization reaches out to young people, parents and caregivers to offer guidance on prevention of suicide, child abuse and other issues impacting young people, particularly young women.
Jana Marie, who struggled with depression her entire life, earned a GED from the State College Area School District in 1999 before attending Penn State University where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family studies.
At Penn State, she was named to the dean's list and was a member of Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society. She also tutored local students seeking their GED. For that work, she was appointed to the State College Area School District's Community Education Advisory Board.
In 2006, she received a statewide award from the Pennsylvania Association for Adult Community Education for her volunteer work. Later in her career she became a counselor for at-risk teenage girls through the State College Area Youth Service Bureau.
"I wanted to carry on her mission of working with young people and I also wanted to give back to the community and teach the community about what we experienced in losing such a special person in our lives," Brown says. "We just wanted to let other members of the community know there is help out there and help kids stay on a path that supports them and let them know they're cared about."
Once a month, through a partnership with other local groups, the foundation offers a Straight Talk session for parents and other caregivers about serious issues facing children and teens – from cutting to alcohol and drugs to bullying.
Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon, a Straight Talk session about child sexual abuse will be held at the Mount Nittany Middle School. The session is free and open to all parents, caregivers or other concerned adults with a focus on prevention and recognition. Another session, including theatrics written and delivered by young people focusing on depression and anxiety, will be held at 7 p.m. April 15 at Mount Nittany Middle School.
"We're working really hard to bring to light topics that parents and children face on a daily basis," says Brown.