New Mental Health Initiative at YSU Hopes to Spark Positivity

By Abigail Cloutier

A senior biology major at Youngstown State University and a YSU alumna partnered with the Student Counseling Services and Andrews Student Recreation Center to establish a new mental health initiative called the Penguin Positivity Program.

The initiative, created by Hannah Haynie and Ashley Amendol, hopes to inspire positive and uplifting energy across YSU’s campus. 

The Penguin Positivity Program creators plan to scatter wooden boards around campus featuring messages of positivity and support while directing students toward resources both on and off campus that can strengthen their mental stability.

Haynie said she wanted to bring the initiative to YSU’s campus to encourage and help students going through tough times that may go unnoticed. 

“I hope that students not only feel comfortable here, but when they do need help that this is something that helps them,” Haynie said. 

Joy Polkabla Byers, executive director of the Andrews Student Recreation Center, said the boards will be in four locations on campus: Kilcawley Center, the Stavich Family Bridge connected to Meshel Hall, Christman Dining Commons and the Student Veterans Resource Center. 

“This is their voice,” Polkabla Byers said. “They have the opportunity to set the future for how we look at well-being on campus. If there are needs not being met, this is a great opportunity of theirs to tell us how we can help them.”

According to Haynie, Penguin Positivity will direct students to mental health resources that may not be well known, including Wick Primary Care on Wick Avenue. 

“It’s wonderful that [YSU] started a partnership with Mercy Health, so now we have more resources,” Haynie said. “There are a lot of groups on campus that would give us the support that students need. They just don’t know it’s there.” 

Ann Jaronski, director of Student Counseling Services at YSU, said having a student-run mental health campaign like Penguin Positivity is important for students who need support.

“All of our services are for YSU students,” Jaronski said. “So without their interest, without their investment, without saying what they want and what they need, it’s hard for us to deliver appropriate care to students.”

While it is not confirmed when the boards will be placed around campus, students and various organizations already want to get involved.

“We have a Penguin Positivity committee through the Honors College made of students who are interested in upkeep, which is really important because we want this to have a lasting impact,” Haynie said. 

The Student Government Association and the psychology and counseling honor societies have  shown interest in joining and promoting Penguin Positivity.

“If the community embraces this … then it would be an awesome opportunity for other groups, departments and divisions on campus to be supportive and get behind this,” Jaronski said.