ODK lights up McKeldin Mall for mental health awareness

Photo courtesy of Tessa Trach

Through the darkness of enduring a mental illness, institutions like the university’s Help Center – a peer counseling and crisis intervention hotline – provide students with a light of hope.

The Sigma Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) at the University of Maryland hosted an event called Light Up the Mall Oct. 26, and all proceeds will benefit the Help Center.

Luminaria were sold for $5 each by the national leadership honor society, Alex Boukhvalova, vice president of ODK, said. Lit luminaria bags lined the fountain on McKeldin Mall as the sun set. The event raised $160 for the Help Center, an organization that aligns with ODK’s mission.

“Our yearly philanthropy initiative is mental health and wellness,” Boukhvalova, a senior computer science and biology major, said.

Student workers from the Help Center were in attendance at the event.

The Help Center began operation in 1979 and functions with guidance from the university’s Counseling Center. It offers walk-in and call services to the university and the surrounding community, according to its website.

Contact between callers, visitors and the Help Center remains anonymous, and counselors provide feedback and further resources no matter how big or small the issue discussed may be.

The center serves as a “listening ear,” Alison Gaynor, a junior public health science major, said. She is currently a trainee at the Help Center and anticipates becoming a certified counselor within the next few weeks.

“We’re really here to talk about anything anyone wants to say,” Gaynor said, “whether they’re going through a crisis or want to talk about feelings.”

Hidden suffering is common with mental illnesses, despite the commonality of these conditions. One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“To see events like this – lighting up the fountain on the mall – it means a lot trying to get these issues out into the open,” she said. “No one knows who’s going through what.”