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Photo from Project LETS

Penn Wellness, the umbrella organization for wellness groups on campus, has received a budget of $10,500 from the Vice Provost for University Life for the 2017-2018 academic year. 

Prior to the publication of this article on Oct. 27, Penn Wellness informed The Daily Pennsylvanian that the budget was $7,500, which would have been a dip from the previous academic year of 2016-2017, when the group was given a budget of $8,000

However, College senior and Penn Wellness Chair Kathryn Dewitt said on Oct. 28 that the $7,500 figure was the result of miscommunication between Penn Wellness and the Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum.  

"Val actually had intended to increase our budget by $2,500 and there was a communication mistake in the initial email describing our budget," Dewitt said. She added that the group has "access to more funds from VPUL should Wellness need it." 

With its current budget, the Penn Wellness board said it has been able to fund four times the number of initiatives compared to previous years, largely because of an increase in awareness of the funds, which are available through the Common Funding Application. 

The Application, which Penn Wellness implemented at the beginning of 2017, allows constituent groups to apply for funding.

“The grant was given by VPUL to enhance mental health programming and initiatives on campus – by students, for students,” founder of Penn Wellness and 2016 College and Engineering graduate Ben Bolnick said. “Before the grant was given, groups had to find funding from other sources.”

College senior and Penn Wellness Treasurer Kelly Gao said the group is reserving a large portion of its grant for next semester, which will feature large-scale initiatives such as the Mental Wellness Week in April. 

However, this has not stopped the group from using the grant to provide resources for several new organizations such as Project Help Eat Accept and Live and Project Let's Erase The Stigma, both of which were established this semester. The funding has also helped groups expand existing projects, and allowed individual students to take on projects that promote mental wellness at Penn. 

Photo: Julia Schorr

College sophomore Rylee Park and College and Engineering sophomore Lauren Drake are co-founders of Penn’s Project LETS chapter. They were both funded by the wellness grant to travel to Brown University over fall break for the Project LETS inaugural conference.

“In general, we aim to build a peer support network among people with lived experience of mental illness or neurodivergent condition,” Park said. 

Drake added that they hope to implement a peer mental health advocate program at Penn, through which students with shared identities or experiences with mental health can be paired together for the long term as a support system. 

Project HEAL is an international organization that aims to provide resources for people to treat their eating disorders.

“I’ve always thought that Penn doesn’t have much awareness or discussion about eating disorders or body positivity,” said College junior and founder of Penn's chapter of Project HEAL  Mariya Bershad. She added that she found this "surprising," particularly because eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. 

Bershad said Project HEAL is also in the process of writing a "Wellness Guide" to help students struggling with eating disorders access the resources on campus that are available to help them.

Penn Wellness funding also goes into financing CogWell training, a program designed to help Penn students understand and improve their mental wellness. Various experts in mental health, including Penn psychiatrists and professors, lead these sessions.  

This year, CogWell is working with other groups such as the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity to implement smaller "mini trainings" focused on active listening across the Greek Life community, said CogWell President and College senior Emily Marucci.

The wellness grant has also gone towards helping individual students implement ideas they have to improve Penn's culture around mental health. 

College senior Serena Bian has been holding "space gatherings" since she was a sophomore, and this semester, the wellness grant will help her organize them. 

Photo: Cindy Chen

Bian said these gatherings are meant for “random” members of the Penn community to come together and combat “emotional isolation.” When she was a sophomore, she held the gatherings at other people's houses. In more recent years, when she decided to hold the gathering at Airbnbs in Philadelphia, she would ask students to bring small amounts of money, such as $5, and foot the rest of the bill herself.

This year she applied for funding through the Common Funding Application — and was successful. For the most recent gathering, held on Oct. 1, food and transportation were paid for by the wellness grant, and the Airbnb was covered by the Social Planning and Events Committee. 

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