Teen advocates for youths on mental health

Anne Marie Amacher
Assumption High School students Anna Schuster, left, and Skylar Hoffman look over presents to be donated to Genesis Health System’s child and adolescent inpatient psychiatric services in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Assumption High School senior Skylar Hoffman’s mental health journey provided the impetus for a service project to convey encouragement and support for other youths with mental health challenges.

The 18-year-old sought funding to purchase gifts that she and her schoolmates wrapped on Dec. 17 for youths hospitalized in the Teen Psychiatric Inpatient Unit of Genesis Health in Davenport. The students also signed a card for the youths and made cards for the unit’s staff during the school’s “Unplugged” activity hour. Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) organizes Unplugged to help students “de-stress,” said Kelly Bush, director of Student Wellness at Assumption.

Skylar said she had been “crippled, tortured and plagued by severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).” Her mental health journey, which included inpatient treatment, convinced her to become an advocate for other youths and to pursue a career in mental health.

“When I share my mental health journey, people often express pity, and my reply often shocks them because I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience,” she wrote in an essay for college applications. Her journey was not easy, “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I found peace when my mind was once a war zone. I found freedom whereas I was once a slave to OCD. But most importantly, it paved a way for me to serve others and equipped me for the mission that lies before me.” Skylar’s dream is to attend Notre Dame University and study clinical psychology.

In the meantime, after tossing around some ideas, she thought about buying presents for adolescents hospitalized locally for mental health treatment. “I remember during free time (as an inpatient) that we wanted things to do. We were not allowed to use our phones. There wasn’t much to do and not the most ‘fresh’ stuff was there.”

Skylar organized the service project after brainstorming with her athletic trainer and Bush and then talking with Principal Bridget Murphy about fundraising possibilities to purchase items for youths to use in the psychiatric unit. Murphy told her money was available from the “free dress” days and that Skylar could complete a budget request.

“She contacted (Genesis) on her own, asked for a list of items they would like for the teens there, and our school purchased the items,” Bush said. The items purchased were a Ninetendo Switch, extra controllers, puzzles, books, board games and a friendship bracelet kit.

“I wanted the kids to know they are not on the margins, as Pope Francis says. They are a part of society and will be OK.” The service project is a way to show love for youths who are inpatients in psychiatric units and that others are thinking of them.

Students stopped by during the “Unplugged” hour to wrap gifts and to make and sign cards. “I’m so excited,” Skylar said. Senior Carly Rolf said she came to help to “support Skylar and her service project. I am proud of her and what she has done. This is such a good project that can change lives.”

“Skylar’s resilience has amazed me over the past four years. She has given purpose and meaning to everything she has been through and has come out the other side empowered and mission-driven,” Bush said.


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