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SoCal Honda Dealers

All it took was a commercial break for 12-year-old Nikole Martinez to realize her dream job was helping others.

It all started three years ago. Nikole came home from school one day and started watching her usual TV shows, just like any other day. But this time was different. This time, it was an ad that caught her attention.


"There was this guy. He was in a wheelchair," explains Nikole. "He had gotten in a motorcycle accident and his mother took care of him. But it was hard for her to lift up the wheelchair, so they gave her a van to help her with carrying him around and having him travel."

It was an ad for the SoCal Honda Dealers. And from the moment Nikole saw it, she knew she wanted to be just like the kind strangers in the commercial and become a part of the Helpful Honda team.

It's finally official!

Nikole's mom, Jocelyn Barabino, reached out to the SoCal Honda Dealers to ask if her daughter could join their awesome Helpful crew as her first job.

"They were really surprised that she wasn't asking for anything — that all she wanted to do was, you know, give back," remembers Barabino. "It's really rare that a teenager actually wants to do that."

Nikole and her mom, Jocelyn, share a nice moment together.

The SoCal Honda Dealers, also called "Helpful Honda" are known for doing random acts of helpfulness and making a positive impact with unsuspecting strangers. Little did they know, though, that the positive impact they had on Nikole was getting her to spread the same message.

Nikole spent the day as an honorary Helpful Honda person this past December.

Her mom and dog, Scottie, even joined her for the amazing experience. "I was really excited," adds Nikole. "I couldn't believe it was actually happening."

She started the day by giving away free gas alongside her new co-workers.

Right after, they all went to the Fontana Festival of Winter to hand out treats, pick up trash, and even give people reusable bags.

They ended the day watching baseball games at the park — again, handing out free treats to the crowd.

The experience lit a fire in Nikole. In fact, she's already thinking about how she can continue helping.

Her next step? Volunteering at the local animal shelter. "When we were looking for dogs," says Nikole, "it's just sad to see how many don't have homes, so it's fun to help."

People were loving how helpful Nikole was.

Her mom and the rest of her family are, of course, extremely proud that she wants to make helping others her life's work. "In so many ways, they spoil her even more," says Barabino, "which is the opposite of what she's asking for."

Paying it forward is just what's in Nikole's heart. And no matter what she ends up doing in the future, there's no doubt she'll be spreading tons of smiles.

"I make friends with everybody, so making somebody happy just makes it even better," says Nikole. "When you can give somebody something they don't have and see how happy and grateful they are for it, it just makes you feel better."

That's what the spirit of helping others is all about — being happy making someone else happy.

If that's at the heart of whatever it is you do, everything else will naturally fall into place.

Check out how Nikole's awesome day unfolded right here:

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

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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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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Trial Cold Open - SNL www.youtube.com

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