WHITEWATER — Always prevalent but “swept under the rug,” mental illness only has risen during this time of pandemic and high unemployment. But the longstanding human tendency to hide mental illness and avoid talking about it does nothing to address the problem and actually discourages people from reaching out to seek the help they need.
In attempt to raise awareness and combat the stigma of mental illness, three Whitewater groups have slated the first-ever local Hope Garden planting later this week.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Active Minds, UW-Whitewater Sustainability Office and the community health coalition Working for Whitewater’s Wellness (W3) will join on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 9 and 10, to plant yellow tulips in the Campus Memory Garden and at Cravath Lakefront Park.
Employing social distancing, required mask-wearing and other coronavirus pandemic precautions, volunteers representing the three groups plan to plant 3,000 yellow tulips in “Hope Gardens” to raise awareness and to symbolize hope for the future.
“This is a first-time event for us,” said Ashley Flor, Administrative Affairs Outreach and Office coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “But it has been done elsewhere as part of a national campaign.”
Flor said that the president of the Active Minds reached out to the sustainability office to see if the student group could work together on the project that would fit with the aims of both organizations. From there, the two groups linked up with W3, which has made promoting mental health in the local community one of its goals.
Kelsey Pacetti, president of the Active Minds on the UW-Whitewater campus, said that she actually learned of the “Hope Garden” idea at the national conference of Active Minds early this year ... before the pandemic hit.
“A girl came up to me with a yellow pin that read ‘Hope Happens,’ and I asked ‘What is this from?’ Pacetti said. “I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever.”
It turns out the entire campaign started in Maine, when founder Julia Hansen created a yellow tulip garden in memory of two of her friends who had died by suicide. The tulip was the favorite flower of one of the friends, while yellow was the other’s favorite color.
Soon, Hansen had started a movement, with yellow tulip gardens popping up all over the state. Then the effort started to spread nationally.
Organizers said that after a long winter, tulips offer a reminder of perseverance and the renewal of spring, just as is planned in Whitewater.
“I thought, how cool it would be to have a Hope Garden in Whitewater?” Pacetti said.
The group put feelers out there to see if this was something the community could get behind, and the feedback was really encouraging, she said.
“We started with the idea of just a small garden bed, and we wound up planning to plant five garden beds with 500 tulips in each one,” she said.
Planning for the project began months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We had no idea the kind of situation we’d be in the middle of,” Pacetti said. “It turned out to be kind of the perfect timing for this. People always need hope, but in the middle of a pandemic, they need hope more than ever.”
Community members are welcome to join in the effort, but registration is required, as the Hope Garden Bulb Planting Ceremony event is limited to 25 participants.
To sign up, people may use the following link: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0d4ca4ae23a3fdc16-hope.
There will be two separate planting days, with volunteers asked to take no more than one hour-long shift. The campus Memory Garden planting will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Friday, while the Saturday planting will take place at Lake Cravatz from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Along with the three main organizing groups, the event also is supported by the City of Whitewater, the Whitewater Unified School District and Seeds of Hope.
For more information, people may get updates on The Yellow Tulip Project by following @ytp_whitewater on Instagram.
Nationally, the Yellow Tulip Project was created to combat increasing rates of suicide by encouraging productive conversations, community interaction, and working to eradicate the historical stigma attached to mental illness. The nonprofit organization partners with schools and public entities, encouraging them to plant Hope Gardens to instill a sense of hope and happiness in the local community.
People can get more information on the national initiative at its website, theyellowtulipproject.org.
The UW-Whitewater Active Minds organization is dedicated to fostering conversation about mental health among America’s youth.
“Active Minds creates a safe space for myself and others on campus to express ourselves and feel safe,” said member Taylor Stevens, a UW-Whitewater graduate.
People may get in contact with the campus group by email at email@example.com or call (608) 963-5721 for additional information, or check out the organization’s website at https://activemindswhitewater.weebly.com/the-yellow-tulip-project.html.
There’s also a Facebook Event link, located at https://www.facebook.com/.
Meanwhile, Working for Whitewater’s Wellness Inc. (www.W3wellness.org) is a local healthy community coalition inspired by the Blue Zones Principles.
W3 is working to make Whitewater a community where people live longer, happier, healthier lives. The group programs and partnerships to affect sustainable improvements for everyone in our community.
The group has set as its strategic priorities being active, eating well, bolstering healthy minds and community connection.
Finally, the UW-Whitewater Sustainability Office strives to improve local education and awareness of environmental sustainability issues through the college’s academic curriculum, student life and campus operations, and in the local community.
The group is working to educate the campus and surrounding communities about global challenges and the role sustainability solutions can play in addressing them. The group is committed to pursuing tangible sustainability projects to improve campus operations and help the university address the three values of sustainability — environmental stewardship, economic feasibility, and promotion of social justice — in meaningful ways.