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Dignity Health old

Trying to foot the bill for a wedding can be tough, especially when money is extra tight.

If anyone knows that to be true, it's Jerold and Mani Clay — a couple from Michigan who are battling homelessness. They've been together for more than a decade but just recently saved up enough to get a marriage license.

They never planned on having an extravagant ceremony — they simply wanted the paperwork to make it official.


But when their local homeless shelter discovered Jerold and Mani were getting hitched, they quickly sprung into action that same day to give them an unforgettable experience.

Last month, Mel Trotter Ministries helped make Jerold and Mani's wedding day extra special.

“The couple’s actually been together since 2004," Abbey Sladick, director of community relations at Mel Trotter in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told Upworthy, noting they'd been looking forward to their wedding day for quite some time. "It was just really important for them to have that day."

GIFs via Fox 17 News.

Sladick explained that, as a faith-based organization, Mel Trotter makes sure compassion is at the heart of everything they do. So when they learned about the couple's plans, they wanted to do anything they could to "enhance the memory."

Utilizing its own thrift stores, the ministry provided many of the essentials — like Jerold's tux and Mani's dress and accessories — while a local salon did the bride's hair and makeup.

And when Ken Kibby, who runs I Now Pronounce You Wedding Services, found out about the couple's financial circumstances the day of the wedding, he decided to officiate for free.


"He needs [the money] more than I do," Kibby told Fox 17 News. "It’s the right thing to do. These are two people trying to get their lives together, and God has blessed me with a lot. So I feel like it’s my job to return the favor."

Many believe it's important for folks with few resources to have the same opportunity to say, "I do" too.

Just ask Sean Cononie. He runs what's been dubbed America's First Homeless Resort out of what used to be a hotel in Haines City, Florida. The space provides homeless people a cheap (or even free) place to rest their head.

Cononie's facility also doubles as a wedding venue for its guests. With funds raised through the resort, he's officiated more than three dozen weddings, as Fox 13 News in Tampa Bay reported last summer.

"People who have money pay, people who don't have money don't pay," he told The Huffington Post in June 2015 of how his facility operates. The price of a room ranges from $0 to $24 a night.

"It was like a fairy tale," Lynette Hudson said after getting married at the facility. "It was beautiful."

Jerold and Mani, who are both looking for work, won't be forgetting their big day any time soon.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” Mani said. “We just wanted to do it casual with a few friends and family, and [Mel Trotter Ministries] came to me and made this happen — the dress, makeup, hair, and everything — and it meant a lot.”

This kind of compassionate community support can provide a huge source of encouragement for folks who are all too often marginalized. How awesome it is for them to have a moment of empowerment and love — something all people deserve.

Watch Fox 17 News' report from the couple's wedding below:

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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