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Alex Tynion and Sarah Kencel, co-chairs of the Young Leadership Council (YLC) for The Jed Foundation (JED), have always believed in the power of exercise when it comes to improving mental wellness. That’s why they launched Move Your Mind, an annual fundraiser that returns October 9 to coincide with World Mental Health Day. Alex and Sarah hope to raise both funds and awareness for youth mental health by encouraging supporters to walk or run with them this weekend—independently, and at their own pace, but with a shared cause.
Below, Alex and Sarah discuss this year’s Move Your Mind and their involvement with JED.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work with The Jed Foundation.
Alex: I invest in and advise startups. I went to Georgetown University, which is where I met Sarah. I first was introduced to The Jed Foundation through the Bruce C. Abrams Foundation; I spoke at one of their galas, and [JED CEO] John MacPhee was there. At that point, I started getting more involved with JED and wanted to do something more hands-on than just writing checks. So I pitched the idea of starting a Young Leadership Council, which is young working professionals advocating for JED’s mission [and] furthering JED’s goals through our involvement and fundraising initiatives.
Sarah: I was fortunate to be brought in by Alex in 2019 and was asked to co-chair in 2020, which obviously correlated to the beginning of [the pandemic]. So we’ve shifted some of our initiatives to align with opportunities that can exist virtually and remotely. Outside of JED, I work in private practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Right now I’m a psychotherapist who specializes in dialectical behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. JED’s mission very much mirrors what I do in my own individual work on a micro scale. They really overlap.
Alex: We both are very much mental health advocates and have been for the last decade. She has been the perfect partner in building this thing over the last few years.
Q: What initiatives has YLC worked on in the past?
Alex: We aim to do fundraising initiatives around May, Mental Health Awareness Month, and then in the fall either coinciding with September, which is Suicide Prevention Month, or October, for World Mental Health Day. Our first ever fundraiser was Laugh Out Louder, which was a comedy show that we did in person before the pandemic and have since transitioned to online. Other than Laugh Out Louder, we also host Move Your Mind. This year we replaced Laugh Out Louder with the JED Jam, a concert series that hopefully we’ll be doing annually now. All of these events are rooted around the tools that help you manage your mental health: laughing, music, and exercise.
Sarah: These are all tools rooted in dialectical behavior therapy that work around reducing our emotional vulnerabilities. We wanted to have a thread of instilling some of these tools that we know are very useful for improving and maintaining our mental health, for both YLC participants and those who are attending our events.
Q:Tell us more about Move Your Mind.
Sarah: Move Your Mind is a walk or run for mental health awareness and fundraising that was actually proposed by a YLC member last year when we were in one of our roundtable brainstorming sessions. It was adapted virtually and implemented successfully; we raised around $25,000 doing so. I think people were motivated to do something independently, wherever they were, that would contribute to JED. This year, we’re adapting Move Your Mind in a similar fashion. I’m actually running a half marathon with a few others to raise money. It’s a trail half, so it’s going to be predominantly in the woods, which I’m very excited about. I know Alex is hosting a walk similar to the one she held last year, that’s going to take participants up the West Side Highway. We also have a few other participants doing runs or walks independently, and we encourage everyone to join.
Alex: The great thing about Move Your Mind is that, like Sarah mentioned, it’s wherever you are, it’s encouraging you to get out, walk, bring friends, bring family, and just practice moving your mind and body.
Sarah: And World Mental Health Day is October 10, so we wanted to do something to commemorate that day and to raise money and awareness.
Q: Why do you think youth mental health is so important, especially right now?
Alex: First of all, in the wake of the pandemic, the rising number of young adults who described themselves as having negative mental health has risen. There’s also been a rise in suicide rates. When I first knew I wanted to get involved in mental health, I really connected with JED. I love that JED knows the importance of rolling up sleeves and actually creating change in schools. Right now, with young adults so deeply affected, I feel like JED’s work is even more important.
Sarah: I pursued a career in mental health because I understand its value on a micro and macro scale. I would call it more of a vocation at this point in my life. I think many of us are drawn to JED because of our own personal experiences. I was able to really bring that into my professional career, as well. I see, unfortunately, the communities that we all reside in struggling more over the past nine months. And I’ve seen in the past five years that it’s important to start implementing policy,procedures, and programs around some of the most vulnerable populations, which right now are school-aged children.
Alex: To Sarah’s point, I am very vocal about my mental health journey. I hate using the word “issues,” but I had a very challenging young adulthood. That inspired me to think about how I could help once I was on my road to recovery. Mental health to me is a very personal thing. It’ll always be mission-driven, whenever you use the word mental health, because it’s thinking about, “How can I use my experience [and] how can I lend my network to raise awareness and raise money for the cause?”
Q: JED is really happy to have your support. What do you think has been the biggest achievement of the YLC so far?
Alex: At our events, it’s so rewarding to be able to bring people into a space or a room and to know that they, your friends, your family, your friends of friends, and your network are committed to the same mission. That sense of accomplishment is so fulfilling–beyond the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised. Second, I am very proud of our ability to make strategic introductions to partners like Mad Happy, which was a partner that worked with JED for two and a half years and raised a significant amount of money and awareness for JED. We have a few other partnerships in the works that will be rolling out at the end of this year, early next year. So I’m also really proud of our ability to find companies, brands, and people who are so aligned with JED’s mission.
Sarah: I think just overall, speaking to the mission, it’s really important for us to be stewards of the next generation and usher them in and protect their mental health. Again, the generation that we’re speaking of is younger than us, and right now, there’s a lot of interdependence and dependence upon the communities that are protecting them or that are raising them. And so for us, I think it’s really important, as an older generation, to be able to help create and improve the way that these kids are navigating their early adulthood and emerging adulthood, and what supports them to do so. We’ve had that experience of living through our middle school, high school, college, and higher education chapters, and we know what it’s like, and it’s important for us to reflect on that and enact change where we see it needed.
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