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Breaking Down Barriers: Girl Scout Brings Awareness to Mental Health and Disorders

Krizia Alarcon, 14, has been a member of Girl Scout troop 6008 for nearly five years, but this year was her biggest yet.

Alarcon earned her Silver Award — one of the highest awards in Girl Scouts that’s awarded for doing big things in the community — and got the opportunity to make a difference along the way.

She knew that she wanted her project to be impactful, so she set her sights on doing something to help break down the barriers and the stigma surrounding having a psychological disorder or disability.

With the help of her mom, Liliana Alarcon, and her Girl Scout troop leaders, Theresa Carcioppolo and Christie Couey, Alarcon organized a community event at Bethany Christian Church in Dallas to raise awareness on mental health and help others understand what it feels like to have a disorder or a disability or to be different.

Girl Scouts around a tableAlarcon was diagnosed with ADHD and mild autism when she was younger. She said that she wanted to share the message with others that although a person may have a disability, it doesn’t mean that they have an inability.

About 50 kids from schools and Girl Scout troops from around the area, as well as parents and representatives from various organizations around the community, turned out to take part in her event.

“I did a lot of research and gathered information to make bulletin boards to set up at the expo,” said Alarcon, who is an eighth grade student from Douglas County. “We listed activities that we could do for each bulletin board on what people with a disability or disorder can go through and what they may feel.”

At the event, Alarcon had several displays with information and activities that demonstrated what it’s like to have a condition such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism or a communication disorder.

On one of the displays, she used a projector that displayed the names of colors written in a different color.

For example, the word “blue” was shown on screen in the color pink. As each word appeared, people had to either read the word or say the color that the word was written in — all while a metronome ticked in the background.

Alarcon used this display to represent how difficult it is for someone with ADHD or dyslexia to concentrate when there are distractions happening around them.

Kim-Johnson-Krizia-Alarcon-Girl-ScoutIn another activity, kids sat back-to-back while one of them held a picture and described what they saw to the person behind them, who then drew what was being described.

She said this activity demonstrated what it’s like to have a communication disorder, and how sometimes the message that’s received is a little bit different than the message that another person is communicating.

Alarcon also invited organizations from around the community to participate in the expo, including representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Douglas County and Willowbrooke at Tanner, who were on hand to share what resources are available for people who have a condition or disorder.

Kim Johnson, LPC, a licensed professional counselor and a director at Willowbrooke at Tanner, was there to present on bullying and mental health first aid for kids.

“If you fell and skinned your knee, you’d grab your first aid kit, pull out a Band-Aid and tend to it,” said Johnson. “But if you get hurt emotionally, there are toolkits for that, too. We asked kids who would they talk to if their feelings were hurt? Who would they talk to if they were feeling sad and weren’t able to make themselves feel better, or if they were really angry about something?”

Johnson explained that some kids would identify people like their mom, older sister or someone from their church as someone they’d talk with.

“Those people are part of their mental health toolkit,” said Johnson. “We wanted to encourage them to not only get first aid if they fall, but to remember who is in their toolkit if they have emotional concerns going on. This was a great event. Krizia’s activities were really interesting. They had a great message and were very creative and engaging.”

Liliana was proud of her daughter for not only putting together this event for the community, but also for facing a challenge and getting past the daunting task of speaking with her peers about these conditions and disorders.

Autism board display“It was a lot of work putting this expo together. I am very proud of her,” said Liliana. “She worked hard because she wanted to talk with people and to help them understand what it’s like. She could’ve said that she didn’t want to do it, that she was nervous, that she didn’t want to talk to people. But she did it, and she didn’t give up.”

For Alarcon, the event was fun and exciting to put together because she hadn’t done anything like it before. She said that she accomplished what she set out to do.

“I wanted to have this expo because I wanted to show that people with these disabilities can do much more than what people think they can do, and that they are much more capable in their own different ways,” she said.

For a full list of resources on youth mental health and more, visit WillowbrookeAtTanner.org. Information about conditions including ADHD, autism and other disorders can be found in Tanner’s free online health library.