Hope on the Hilltop

New Pomfret club focuses on breaking the stigma of mental health issues.


The sounds of laughter and cheers pour out of the Griffin Conference Room one Tuesday afternoon during the club block. Anyone who popped their head in would see excited and surprised faces — not the serious business that often occurs in the School’s executive meeting room. That is unless it’s being used for a GriFFeelings meeting. 

GriFFeelings is a new club on the Hilltop that stems from junior Jack Ventresca's Health and Wellness class and fellow junior Mary-Aliya Turay's idea of starting a mental health club on campus. Both students were motivated by the pandemic and helping their classmates express their emotions. “We thought it would be nice for people to have an outlet for sharing their feelings after a time when we were so enclosed by ourselves,” said Mary-Aliya.

GriFFeelings is the Pomfret chapter of the national organization Hope Happens Here, a primarily student-athlete-run organization that aims to break the negative stigma associated with mental health issues. While our chapter is among the first independent high school chapters, a familiar face — Brandon Mitchell ’17 — serves as a business operations intern on the national organization’s leadership board and as a tri-chair of Saint Michael’s College’s chapter.

GriFFeelings sells awareness bracelets and care packages during Family Weekend.

During Family Weekend, GriFFeelings sold awareness bracelets and finals care packages to fundraise. “We had people purchasing the care packages for a certain person, while others brought them for a specific team or dorm. Some let us decide who we thought might need one,” said Jack. “With students' work ramping up, it will be a nice treat to help them get through it.”  From the funds raised, the group hopes to hold mental health awareness activities on campus — including mental health awareness games organized in partnership with the Athletic Council.

“Our goal is to get the word out about mental health resources available and the importance of mental health,” said Jack. “We want to let everybody know it's okay. What you're going through — other people have gone through it, too. You're not alone. And if you ever need to talk to somebody, there are so many resources out there.” 

“We are trying to make it inclusive. Everyone has their battles — we're just trying to normalize mental health,” added Mary-Aliya.

One of the first steps to having conversations about mental health is making everyone feel comfortable — and that is something that the club does at every meeting. Before getting down to business, they talk about how their week is going. After the meeting's work is complete, they play fun games — some that focus on topics not related to mental health. “We are having so much fun that everything else outside the room doesn't matter,” said Jack. “I was having so much fun that I forgot I had three tests that week. It's a good stress reliever.”

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