Over the past few years, a larger spotlight has been placed on mental health and wellbeing. With the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantines, lack of in-person contact, and day-to-day stress, it’s no surprise that everyone from Olympic athletes to college students has made mental health and wellbeing a greater priority. For William and Mary Hillel, the staff saw an opportunity to create programs and services to enhance the lives of Jewish students on campus.
“We saw a real need to help students, especially during COVID,” said Rabbi Gershon Litt, Director of William and Mary Hillel. “Students are stressed and anxiety and depression are rampant among college students today. Giving them a safe space to deal with their anxiety was important for us.”
Starting in the fall of 2021, William and Mary Hillel created a cohort that would offer student-initiated programming in the mental health and wellbeing space. Mental health professionals were brought in to offer guidance and advice on how to implement a well-rounded mental health program. Additionally, the program worked closely with the campus counseling department to educate Jewish students about what counseling services they offered.
“Most Hillel programs are social, religious, cultural, or historical,” said Litt. “Self-help programs, or programs that deal with the wellbeing of the student, engages the whole student and allows them to be more mentally present and healthy for their college experience.”
The Tidewater Jewish Foundation’s grant of $2,000 helped William and Mary Hillel offer programs such as de-stressing knitting sessions, meditation programs, cooking programs, group conversations with mental health professionals, and more.
“By investing in this program, TJF’s support granted our students the opportunity to have programming that spoke to their mental health needs," said Litt. “The TJF Community Impact Grant really made a difference for us.”
“TJF is proud to support an innovative program that tackles a complex issue like mental health,” said Naomi Limor Sedek, President and CEO of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation. “Not only is William and Mary Hillel providing the mental health resources and services Jewish students need, but they’re also laying down a foundation that will support mental health and wellbeing for years to come.”
So far, the cohort has proved to be incredibly successful. William and Mary Hillel expected 10-15 students to enroll in the cohort in fall 2021, with an increase to 25 students by spring 2022. Yet, by the end of the first year, almost 100 students had participated.
“Not only were we able to run amazing programs and offer a category of programming that we were not able to offer in the past, but the effect the program had on our Jewish students carried over into the rest of our Hillel programming as well as into our students’ personal lives,” said Litt.