On a gloomy day in May, a large crowd gathered behind Macomb Hall. Three small donkeys trotted around and greeted eager Plattsburgh State students at the Wellness Fair. 

Many eager and ecstatic college students waited to get their hands on wellness crafts and the fluffy brown animals that were busy chewing the grass and snuggling up to whoever was in their path.

“My favorite part of the fair was definitely the donkeys,” Carolyn Graber said, junior public relations major and member of Alpha Epsilon Phi Sorority.

Graber attended Wednesday’s Wellness fair with her friends, and her first stop was to see the donkeys. After her and her friends got pictures with them, she went to the stress ball making table to get some helpful information about managing stress.

In addition to activities such as meditation, interacting with donkeys, stress ball making, painting and coloring, they had groups such as National Alliance of Mental Illness-Champlain Valley and Behavioral Health Services North, two health organizations that are local to the Plattsburgh community. The Meditation Club, Active Minds and the Hoop Troop were also there. 

Packets from NAMI-CV explained a few events and programs it created available for the academic and local community. The programs include free events such as Meditation Mondays and Community Art Group, which are held Mondays or Thursdays at 2 p.m. at the Plattsburgh Public Library. The organization also has a writing group program that meets Fridays at 1 p.m. at Lake City Books in Plattsburgh. Along with these groups, PSUC staff came to work the event as well. 

Lisa Bojo, a NAMI-CV employee, was speaking to students and giving them information and advice.

“Talk about [mental health],” Bojo said. “People will scream that they have high blood pressure or thyroid complications or anything like that, but people won’t yell or talk loudly about having a mental illness.”

Ashley Durocher, associate director of Student Support Services and Student Accessibility Services, helped organize the Wellness Fair. As a licensed mental health counselor, she provides counseling, advisement and various opportunities for students to not only be successful academically but also socially. 

Over winter break, Durocher was discussing the therapeutic benefits of animals with co-coordinator Allsun Lovell Ozyesil. Soon, their plans of bringing donkeys to campus turned into a wellness fair event that would take place before finals week.

“We chose May because it is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it is close to finals, a time when many of our students are incredibly busy and stressed,” Durocher said, “We thought donkeys and a wellness fair would be a fun and creative way to discuss mental health and help our students de-stress.”

While they had a concrete plan in place and had support from their supervisors, their biggest challenge was attempting to have people take their idea seriously.

“We got a lot of strange looks and questions when we pitched the idea,” Durocher said.

However, they pulled through and put on an organized event with a decent turnout and shed a light on the subject of mental health. 

“Sometimes, mental health is looked at in a negative light, when really it is something that we all need to be focusing on,”  Durocher said. “It is wellness, self-care and having the awareness and ability to take the time out of our busy schedules to do things that genuinely make us happy.”

Kristina Moquin, a PSUC Student Health Center counselor, ran the coloring station, decorated with crayons and coloring sheets. Durocher said this station served as a grounding exercise, taking people out of the confines of their minds and using physical touch as a way to bring them to the present.

“The purpose here is to just [have] a little relaxation stuff to just color and chat and de-stress a little bit,” Moquin said.

While the Wellness Fair featured fun activities like coloring, painting and petting donkeys outside, Moquin said it was a step in the right direction to erase the negative stigma around mental health.

“People wait, and they suffer, and they suffer for so long, because it’s like they are afraid to admit, ‘Hey I might need some help,’” Moquin said. “It’s okay to not be okay.”

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