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Student Parent Association striving to connect campus, community in normalizing 'universal' mental health

News-Herald - 3/24/2023

Mar. 24—Last fall, the Adulting with Kids Alliance began as a group project for an English class at Lakeland Community College.

The student club, now known simply as the Student Parent Association, may have changed monikers, but its goal to build relationships between parents and caregivers while encouraging and inspiring participants and community members remains the same.

The group's president, Painesville resident, Nikkia Kostner, said she's developed a passion for helping families through her time and work with SPA, noting her own experiences as a testament.

"While we also wish to be a bigger presence on campus," the mother of four added. "As someone who has dealt with different types of living spaces, and as a former foster kid, it's important this was reinstated. Addressing mental health, in general, and demonstrating peer support for student-parents, is part of our larger vision. We also hope to continue educating parents, to become better parents, and to create a foundation of hope while offering resources to other colleges.

"I think one thing that often gets overlooked when it comes to mental health, too, as we get older, is finding and maintaining our community," Kotsner added. "Our society has become so individualistic and isolated, especially after the pandemic, that I think a lot of people are really struggling — humans are social beings, and when we don't have a positive support system, it just makes everything harder than it needs to be.

"When we are kids, some of that is built in with our neighborhood friends and classmates, but as we get older it becomes harder to form those connections, especially for someone who works remotely or who lives farther away from their family or hometown."

And that's where SPA seizes the spotlight.

However, Kostner notes that several additional agencies throughout Lake County, for example, Crossroads Health, Lifeline, Inc., and the ADAMHS Board, to name a few, provide invaluable information and services.

"They're all a big driving force in what we do, helping people cope with a problem that's universal and in normalizing seeking help and being human," she said. "There are a lot of stigmas about asking for help, especially when it comes to mental health.

"It seems a lot of people have this impression that only 'crazy people' go to therapy, and that couldn't be further from the truth," she added. "I fully believe every human on the planet could benefit from having someone to talk to without fear of judgment, someone who can help teach them skills to manage life's stresses in a healthier way....that's what therapy is....prioritizing mental health and wellness."

The SPA, which has held several events in promotion of its mission, including a recent bake sale and ice cream social, in addition, also speaks to specific conditions of understanding.

Kostner, who's pursuing a degree in human services, said one of the explicit things she's passionate about is finding ways to help heal and prevent intergenerational patterns of trauma, abuse, and dysfunction in families.

"Things haven't always been perfect.... And having experienced struggles with this both as a child and as a parent myself, my goal is to be part of the solution and break these cycles, and not just for myself and my family, but on a larger scale," she added. "I think that standardizing pre-intervention strategies, so we as parents can effectively respond to issues as they arise, rather than reacting poorly because we don't know what to do instead, could make a huge difference for a lot of families.

"I believe most parents want nothing more than to do right by their children, but sometimes we simply don't know what that looks like because we weren't taught — I want to help change that."

When Kostner started at Lakeland, she felt a little bit out of place because, as she details it, she was "old enough" to be the mom of some of her classmates.

But in her second semester, she was enrolled in a class where she met other women in similar positions, which helped her feel a lot less alone. It was these friendships and connections that inspired Kostner to reinstate the SPA.

"I wanted to create a safe place and I hope to see this group's impact thrive and grow even after I graduate," she said. "I have also had the opportunity and privilege to work as a student employee in two different departments at Lakeland — the Women's Center and the Student Engagement and Leadership program — and the support and sense of belonging I have felt in both positions have kept me going when things have gotten tough. I can honestly say I don't think I would be the person I am today had I not made the decision to go back to school.

"I am so thankful for the things I have learned and the people I have met through my jobs and classes at Lakeland because they have helped me grow and become stronger," Kostner added. "It has been a long time coming, but I am proud of the woman I am becoming and I attribute a lot of this success to my education."


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