Teen's reaction to neighbors replacing her shattered snow-globe collection is priceless
Courtesy of Stefanny Avera

Janae was delighted to be given dozens of snow globes to replace her beloved collection.

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When Janae was a young child, her grandparents gifted her a snow globe. She was mesmerized by it, which caught her family's attention as it was one of the first "toys" she had ever really played with.

Janae has a rare genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome, which causes a host of developmental and physiological challenges, including learning delays and issues with various organs. At 15 years old, Janae has already been through two open-heart surgeries and countless other medical procedures.

Many kids with Williams Syndrome don't play with toys, preferring to engage with people rather than things. In fact, extreme friendliness and abundant love for everyone they meet are unique features of people with Williams, which is part of why Janae's aunt, Stefanny Avera, describes her as having "a heart of gold."

"It is by far her 'special ability,' although medically it is classified as a disability," says Avera.

When Janae showed a keen interest in snow globes, her family started collecting them in their travels to give to her. She kept the collection on a special shelf in her bedroom.

But one night in January, Janae awoke to a terrible crashing sound. Her snow globe shelf had fallen off the wall, shattering her collection and devastating Janae.

"I was on the phone at the time with her mom and I heard her just bawling," says Avera. "She was so worried that everyone would be upset that they broke and that she'd never get new ones."

Avera wanted to do something to help, so she turned to the local community. She posted a photo of Janae on the Nextdoor app to reach her Thornton, Colorado neighbors and explained what had happened. She thought maybe she could buy some used snow globes from people in the community to help Janae rebuild her collection.

"I expected to get maybe a dozen for her to start," says Avera. "It blew up."

The snow globes started pouring in—and so did people's stories.

One woman donated a Disney snow globe that was given to her years ago during her first job at Disney World.

A traveling nurse who collected snow globes all over the U.S. gifted Janae her entire collection.

Another woman donated three globes that had belonged to her sister who died of cancer 12 years ago. She said this felt like "the perfect opportunity to move forward and let her love for them move on."

A couple who had received two snow globes when they lost a child gave one of them to Janae.

"People dropped them off crying happy tears, watching Janae cry happy tears," says Avera.

Janae's reaction to receiving the influx of snow globes could not be more precious.

People were happy to help and eager to share what their snow globes meant to them.

"We were told many times it was therapeutic to be a part of it all," says Avera. "There were people who told us entire stories about lost loved ones who also collected, people whose children collected them too and heard her story and gifted her some from their collection, people who had loved ones with special needs and love being a part of gifting Janae one."

Nearly ten months later, Janae still gets snow globes dropped off once in a while. "We even get them in the mail from people who heard about it on Nextdoor through friends and they mailed them," says Avera.

Janae has gotten 86 snow globes so far as a result of Avera's Nextdoor post, including globes that have been sent from six different states. When she gets duplicates, Jane gifts them to other kids, keeping the generosity flowing.

When asked how she feels about her snow globes, Janae said, "I'm just happy and blessed to have been given them."

It's incredible how people will step up to help out when asked. Janae's shelf falling may have felt tragic at the time, but her aunt reaching out to her neighbors resulted in a wave of support and heartfelt human connection, which is what being part of a community is all about.

"To see not only our community but people across the country share and reach out, to see so many people cry and share in this moment of happiness has been an amazing and humbling experience," says Avera.

In honor of Neighbor Month, Nextdoor is celebrating the people and places nearby that make our neighborhoods wonderful. Share a story about why you #LoveYourNeighborhood on your @Nextdoor newsfeed for a chance to be featured for Neighbor Month.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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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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