Stevenson students promote awareness of mental health risks for people with developmental disabilities

  • Caroline Mazur-Sarocka, left, and Rishika Chikoti, right, distributed more than 200 informational pamphlets at the Stevenson High School Mental Health Forum.

    Caroline Mazur-Sarocka, left, and Rishika Chikoti, right, distributed more than 200 informational pamphlets at the Stevenson High School Mental Health Forum. Courtesy of Rishika Chikoti

 
Posted11/11/2020 6:00 AM

Adlai E. Stevenson High School students Caroline Mazur-Sarocka and Rishika Chikoti have significantly increased their community's awareness about mental health risks among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Founded in early 2019, their awareness campaign, "The Ripple Initiative," has spoken to and educated more than 3,000 community members through educational seminars, social media campaigns and fundraising events.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Through an extensive exposure to health care, evident in their leadership and involvement in activities like HOSA Future Health Professionals, Future Doctors of America, and clinical volunteering at local hospitals, Chikoti and Mazur-Sarocka have recognized the need and developed a passion for working to diminish clinical inequality.

They are certain that through community financial support and increased awareness, the mental health disparities present among these vulnerable populations will be minimized. Moving forward, The Ripple Initiative will continue to form connections with community organizations at the local, state and national levels in hopes of causing a significant shift in clinical and societal perspectives.

We contacted Caroline Mazur-Sarocka and Rishika Chikoti for information about The Ripple Initiative:

Q: What is your organization's name?

A: Founded in early 2019, "The Ripple Initiative" has spoken to and educated more than 3,000 community members through educational seminars, social media campaigns, and fundraising events.

Q: What is your name?

A: Caroline Mazur-Sarocka and Rishika Chikoti.

Q: What is your title?

A: Co-founders of The Ripple Initiative.

Q: What is your organization's mission?

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A: We aim to raise awareness regarding the heightened mental health risks among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Q: How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?

The Ripple Initiative delivering holiday cards on Dec. 25, 2019.
The Ripple Initiative delivering holiday cards on Dec. 25, 2019. - Courtesy of Rishika Chikoti

A: Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, The Ripple Initiative made an appearance at the first annual Stevenson High School Mental Health Forum and spoke to numerous co-curricular activities, including the clubs, Future Doctors of America, Archery, and Mind your Mind (a mental-health oriented organization). They continued to further educate their community through harnessing social media platforms including, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, where they have gained a substantial local and national following and have received more than 4,500 total views on their posts, stories, and videos.

Q: Who do you serve (a specific segment of the population, a regional area)?

A: The Ripple Initiative has made a direct impact across the Chicagoland area through fundraising for various community organizations. The educational resources promoted by The Ripple Initiative on social media have found a nationwide audience of ranging age groups, from middle school students to adults.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q: When and why did the organization start? How has it grown?

A: After stumbling across statistics that indicated that adults with autism are three times more likely to have depression and five times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, Mazur-Sarocka and Chikoti were shocked to find that there was a lack of awareness surrounding these escalated risks.

Following further research regarding the heightened mental health risks among the disabled population, they decided that it was essential for their community to be informed, as ignorance tends to be the breeding ground of intolerance.

Q: What kind of successes have you had (include a specific, name-free example, if possible)?

Caroline Mazur-Sarocka, left, and Rishika Chikoti, right, after delivering donations to a community residential home for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Caroline Mazur-Sarocka, left, and Rishika Chikoti, right, after delivering donations to a community residential home for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. - Courtesy of Rishika Chikoti

A: Through working with several community residential homes providing work and social support for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, The Ripple Initiative has sold custom-curated sweatshirts and bracelets.

The profits raised from these sales have gone toward financially supporting these organizations and helping increase community engagement with the organization.

Additionally, The Ripple Initiative made a direct impact on the residents of these homes through brightening their holiday season. In the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, Mazur-Sarocka and Chikoti held community card-making events that produced cards that were then hand-delivered to residents on Dec. 25, 2019.

Through events such as these, The Ripple Initiative has been able to encourage the community to make a "ripple" of kindness while gaining recognition on the state and national scale.

Q: What challenges does the organization currently face?

A: Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Ripple Initiative has felt an even greater need within their community to educate about the increased vulnerability of students with educational disabilities.

To gain a firsthand perspective on the increased presence of mental health risks among those with disabilities, Mazur-Sarocka and Chikoti interviewed a fellow Stevenson High School student about his experiences with 504 plans and how they have impacted his mental health as a middle and high school student. This interview has been published on YouTube, utilizing the platform to reach a national audience.

To help nonprofits financially recover from COVID-19, Mazur-Sarocka and Chikoti organized a socially-distanced athletic fundraising event. Through the efforts of their participants, hundreds of miles were run and each participant donated their proceeds to these nonprofits.

Without the return to in-person school, The Ripple Initiative has made use of the rising popularity of podcasting. Through the Spotify platform, The Ripple Initiative has released episodes and will continue to do so in the future to inform their audience about various mental-health related topics.

Thus, by adapting to online resources, The Ripple Initiative has been able to adapt to obstacles and continue to educate and support the community.

Q: What do you wish the community at large knew about the organization?

A: The clinical inequality faced by those with intellectual and developmental disabilities is not one that solely affects the nation on a broad-scale, but it also is seen at heightened levels within our community. However, through simple education and awareness, we can work to eradicate this inequality.

Q: How can readers get involved (volunteer opportunities, donations, fundraisers, etc.)?

A: Feel free to contact The Ripple Initiative at rippleinitiative.wixsite.com/makearipple, Instagram: @rippleinitiative, and Facebook page: The Ripple Initiative in order to schedule an educational seminar for your organization, participate in volunteering events, or donate to charitable fundraising drives.

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