First Friday Brings Community Together to Support Mental Health
May 02, 2015 5:00 AM
by Michael Martin Garrett
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When local musician Eric Ian Farmer looks at the news recently, he sees a country in desperate need of community building.

That’s why he was on Beaver Avenue on Friday evening, wailing soulful sounds on his acoustic guitar and prompting earnest smiles from passersby. He was playing as part of the First Friday series of community concerts and activities, which also served to kick off mental health awareness month in State College. 

“We definitely need to support a greater awareness of mental health,” Farmer says. “It’s the foundation of any community. Part of our healing is in each other, in our togetherness.”

Amy Nevling, a client of the nonprofit organization Skills of Central Pennsylvania, echoes that sentiment.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, Nevling struggles with self-harm and the snap judgments others often make about people with mental illnesses. But as she’s gained the confidence to speak about her struggles in front of other people, she’s found strength in herself and in others.

“People are so quick to judge,” Nevling says. “But people with mental illnesses are people just like everyone else. We have the same wants and needs.”

Nevling was one a group of people who toured downtown State College, stopping in at 40 local businesses hosting handmade stopwatch posters. The stopwatches – distributed by the Jana Marie Foundation as part of a month-long mental health awareness campaign – each have a different theme somehow related to emotional well-being: take time to breath, to relax, to think, to reflect, to sympathize.

The tour of downtown, which wound through streets filled with musicians, ultimately stopped in at Webster’s Bookstore and Café, where professional art therapist Rhonda Stern spoke about the healing power of art.

“The images beneath our emotions come from within, and they teach us, so in a way we are teaching ourselves,” she says. “Your imagination is an incredible resource for growth and healing.”

State High student Matt Wherley was out on Pugh Street, listening to a concert organized by a local non-profit called Sounds. As a member of his own band Here All Week, a board member on Sounds, and a dedicated supporter of mental health awareness, he knows how music and art can bring people together. 

“This gives people a way to express their feelings and to get themselves out there,” Wherley says. “It’s beneficial to everyone, to the community as a whole.”

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