The power of peers in North Salem
Three words saved Ellie Haney’s life: Here For You.
That’s a phrase Haney and her best friend, Emma, would often say to each other at the end of their phone conversations.
Under a bright October sun, Haney recounted her personal story at Hayfields Market in North Salem on Sunday. She was setting up a table of embroidered sweatshirts, stickers and keychains at a mental wellness event on the cafe’s patio.
“Before I graduated from college was right when COVID started. I was in a really dark spot,” remembers Haney. She has struggled with mental health issues her entire life. Her uncle’s death by suicide added to an already difficult journey. The Fairfield, Connecticut native eventually crawled out of her deep depression by designing streetwear during her senior year at the University of Delaware.
“I was obsessed with tie-dying. I let my pieces sit overnight. In the morning, I would wake up, wash and dry the pieces. The different colors and different designs got me out of bed in the morning,” Haney said. “It gave me something to look forward to… It made me feel less alone.”
That discovery process led to the birth of Ellie Haney’s streetwear fashion line, Hanesie Clothes, where all the designs carry positive messages for young adults. Her first embroidered sweatshirt line is “Here for You.”
Listen to Ellie Haney’s anecdote about meeting a grateful mother.
Other vendors at the wellness event underscore the theme of peers helping peers.
North Salem resident Bea Halstead transitioned from an earlier career as a civil engineer to a second career teaching yoga to families. Her goal is to gently persuade busy teenagers to embrace yoga as an avenue for creating a safe, mental space in their lives.
“These kids today are so inundated with sports, after-school activities and the amount of homework they get. It's so important for them to realize that you need the time for you - that down time,” says Halstead. “I always tell my classes, ‘You have to take a pause on purpose.’”
"You have to take a pause on purpose."
– Bea Halstead, North Salem Yoga Instructor
A group of middle and high school students buzzes around a table with a sign reading “Warr;ors.” It’s a mental health and wellness club started by North Salem Middle/High School guidance counselor Melissa Smith in 2017. (The semicolon in the name is a nod to Project Semicolon, a national suicide prevention initiative. ) The club holds Mental Health 101 training and creates activities around empathy. Smith carried over the concept of the Warr;iors Club from her previous job at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor. In 2014, a Walther Panas high school student died by suicide. Smith provided faculty support to another student who started the Warr;riors Club in response to the classmate’s suicide.
"The idea of brain health was not discussed [at the time] and the stigma to access treatment was a barrier," says Smith. "The idea of the Warr;ors Club is to empower students so they can help their peers. They are the front line. I believe in giving them the knowledge and resources to help their friends."
" Young people know their friends well. Who’s not coming to school?
Who’s dressing differently? Whose hygiene is off?
The idea is to empower young students so they can help their peers."
– Melissa Smith, Guidance Counselor
"I feel like the biggest [issue] is finding yourself, especially for people freshman year trying to figure things out. It's a lot easier to do that with guidance."
- Even, North Salem 9th Grader (2nd from right in photo)
Yoga teacher Bea Halstead summed up the value of peer-to-peer communication. Pointing to clothing designer Ellie Haney, she said ,“Here we have a young beautiful woman with a compelling story. I feel like when you have young people [talking to each other], it works a little better than when you have the 50-year old woman telling you what to do.”