A Burlington High School club has become the first of its kind in Iowa.

Formerly known as Mind Blowing Connections, the club that formed in the fall of 2021 out of a desire to further normalize discussions about mental health, has joined the Bring Change to Mind network.

Mind Blowing Connections was the brainchild of Zakiyah Timmons-Crear, who graduated this past May.

Timmons-Crear formed the club after being inspired by the Therapeutic Learning Classroom — an idea conceived of and brought to life in 2020 by a group of BHS students seeking to create a safe haven for those struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues to go when they need a break from their regular classrooms — as well as an assignment for science teacher Jill Smith’s class in which students were tasked with coming up with an idea to add something to the school.

Timmons-Crear wanted to create a mental health class, which morphed into a club. With the principal’s blessing, she spent the summer of 2021 coming up with materials for the club. She decided the club would be a perfect fit for Bring Change to Mind after learning about it from TLC teacher Amy Kristensen, who came across the BC2M website while searching for ideas to implement in TLC.

“I was playing around on the internet and I found this group called Bring Change to Mind, and it’s all across the country, but there were

none in Iowa,” Kristensen said.

Bring Change to Mind got its start in 2009 with the goal of ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness through creating multimedia campaigns, curating storytelling movements, and developing youth programs.

It makes available information and other resources, including funding, to its clubs.

After reviewing Bring Change to Mind’s website, Timmons-Crear was quick to apply. Part of the application process involved writing

a letter.

“I brought it up and Zakiyah wrote the letter,” Kristensen said. “What was so cool about it was she wrote the initial letter, and I followed up with it the next day and I wasn’t sure if they really had read the letter, and the woman goes, ‘Oh yeah, we read the letter. We know it.’ So it just shows you how on top of things they are.”

Due to a decrease in funds brought on by the pandemic, BC2M had a waitlist, and BHS was on it.

Kristensen was taken by Timmons-Crear’s persistence, which paid off this year after winter break when Timmons-Crear, who graduated last May, received an email stating that Mind Blowing Connections no longer was on the waitlist. From then on, the BHS club became known as Bring Change to Mind.

“Mrs. Smith said roll with it and she did,” Kristensen said. “Our students have awesome ideas. There are times they feel they don’t have the power, but the power’s in their hands to run with anything and make the changes. Our kids are going to change the world. That’s non-negotiable. They’re incredible.”

The BC2M membership gives the BHS chapter access to public service announcements made with celebrities such as Glenn Close and everyday people, promotional items for resources such as the National Suicide Hotline, which can be reached via phone or text at 988, and ideas for things they can do locally to spark conversations about mental health.

“It’s amazing all the things they have available, and we’ve just started to scratch the surface,” Kristensen said. “They sent a box of things for us right away that had a huge banner, and they had flyers and stickers, plus there’s all these other advisors you can talk to and share ideas with.”

Recently, BC2M members spent three days manning a table in the high school’s cafeteria taking down names and messages for notes of kindness. The notes were passed out to their intended recipients the following week by club members. The goal was to foster connections, which can be life-saving to those struggling with mental health.

The club seeks to have a positive impact both outside of its membership and for those who are in it.

We have like a good group of kids who want to make a change, and we’re actively doing things to show our support and stuff,” said sophomore Elaine Guyton, who joined the club after reading about it in a newsletter. “I wanted to come because I believed it was going to be like a safe space to talk about your problems and stuff.”

BHS senior Stephen Kastantin, president of BC2M, joined the club last year when its members began planning the school’s first ever suicide awareness walk, an event inspired by the deaths of two BHS students.

His membership also came as he was struggling with his own mental health.

“Last year, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I started having a realization that people really shouldn’t be going

through this,” Kastantin said. “It’s not normal, so I went to Mrs. Myers and said I want to get involved with a group of people who are trying to spread awareness about mental health, and she said, ‘Do I got the people for you’ and pointed me in the direction of this lovely group of people, and they were all so kind to me and brought me along for the wonderful journey that I’ve gone through.”

Kastantin is far from alone. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary and Trends Report, in 2021, 42% of students nationwide reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless and 29% experienced poor mental health.

That same year, 22% of students reported having seriously considered attempting suicide.

Kastantin said joining BC2M has helped him to open up about his own experience, and he believes it will do the same for others.

“Most people are very shy when it comes to their mental health, so they don’t really want to talk about it, but when they see a group of people who are willing to talk about not only their experiences but are willing to help out and reach out to random people that they don’t know, then they start to recognize that they can talk about this and that they really should talk about this, especially coming from a guy who’s grown up thinking you’re not supposed to show your feelings,” Kastantin said.

Bring Change to Mind meets for an hour after school each Monday in the TLC room across from the main office. Those wanting to join are welcome to attend.

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