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Dignity Health old

Trent Griffin got a surprise when NASA Cmdr. Scott Kelly sent him a special thank you on ABC's "Good Morning, America" — live from space.

GIF via ABC/YouTube.


Kelly, a NASA astronaut on board the International Space Station, video-chatted from the International Space Station to thank Griffin for his dedication to community service in Huntsville, Alabama, home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Griffin volunteers with the local Juvenile Conference Committee for underserved youth, visits schools to teach kids science experiments to do at home, and is the president of the Northwest Huntsville Neighbor Association.

But that's not the only reason why the NASA commander wanted to give Griffin some praise. A year ago, he came up with another idea to engage with local children in a positive way — and it has to do with bicycles.

Griffin acquires used bikes and donates them to kids.

Griffin with some of his "bike kids". Image via ABC/YouTube.

The idea came to him when he saw a kid riding a bike with no tire on one of the wheels, says Griffin in an interview with WHNT 19 News. Then he found out the child shared the broken bike with five other siblings.

So Griffin picked up some bikes from a thrift store and restored them for the kid and his siblings.

They were really happy to have them, he says, and soon word began to spread. Other kids showed up to ask about acquiring a bike or getting their own repaired, and Griffin just couldn't say no.

But he added a catch.

In exchange for the bicycle, Griffin has the kids he donates them to sign a "contract."


Image via WHNT 19 News.

The contract asks that each kid respects their parents, finishes their homework, tries to get good grades, and maintains their bicycle. The attention and motivation seem to be working, too.

"When I went to go talk to a school at an awards ceremony, turns out one of my bike kids got the most improved behavior," Griffin shared with WHNT 19 News.

Oh yeah, and that thank you from NASA's Cmdr. Kelly? It was particularly special because of another role Griffin wears:

He's also a NASA physicist.

That's right — this guy's day job has him doing stuff like helping build a new facility for the International Space Station.

Kelly explained on "Good Morning, America" why Griffin is a hero, both in his community and at NASA:

"A lot of people look up to astronauts because we fly in space, but we really, really rely on the people on the ground ... people like yourself that help us do our job up here and make our lives safer and easier,” Kelly said. “But what I really look up to are people that do things when they don't expect any recognition. And I think that's what you do by donating your time and by getting these bikes for [these kids], and getting them to be in a position someday where they can be successful adults."

Kelly also announced that 50 brand new bicycles would be donated for Griffin to give to more local kids.

For his part, Griffin hopes what he does will inspire people to come together, he says, "as part of the village helping kids find their direction."

Giving kids the stuff they want with the training they need is definitely an idea worth passing along.

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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