Promoting health and wellness in Bristol: The Bristol Kindness Project brings mental health awareness to local community

RWU’s Director of Public Safety, Steve Melaragno, is pictured with one of the “Don’t Give Up” signs on campus, which is part of Bristol Kindness Project.

Connor Midgley, Herald Contributor

Students are perhaps wondering about the white signs across campus that have phrases such as “You Matter” and “Don’t Give Up” on them. Those signs were put up on campus and all around Bristol by the Bristol Health Equity Zone (BHEZ), as part of its Bristol Kindness Project.

Led by co-coordinators Emily Spence and Craig Pereira, the BHEZ is one of multiple Health Equity Zones in the state. Each of these are dedicated to preventing chronic illness, improving social conditions and fostering healthy childhood development in Rhode Island, among other things. The Bristol Kindness Project is part of its Personal and Mental Wellness group, led by working group champion Kate Hawley. This group works alongside the Suicide Prevention group to bring awareness to mental health in the community. 

The Personal and Mental Wellness group applied for a Fund for Civic Activities (FCA) grant through RWU, which they received and used to purchase 50 of the signs for the “Don’t Give Up” signs project. The grant was also used to fund a mental health training. According to The Town of Bristol/Roger Williams University Cooperative Committee, this grant supports “a broad range of projects and services proposed by individuals or non-profit organizations that work toward enhancing the civic experience in the Town of Bristol.” The signs were put up around town during their September Recovery rally at locations like Town Hall, the fire department, the police station, churches, businesses and residences. The signs received very positive feedback.

“People have given us all kinds of great feedback about how much they love the signs and what a difference they make,” Spence said.

In all, about 170 signs have been put up around Bristol. There have been positive reactions from members of the community. Some people who are suffering from depression said that seeing the signs was comforting for them, while one woman said that they brought about an increased sense of community in her neighborhood. Another individual was putting up a sign that read “you are worthy of love” when a couple with a child walked by. The couple had the child read the sign out loud, and then explained to her what the saying meant.

“We thought that this was a wonderful way to share this with children,” Spence said, regarding that encounter.

Another project organized by the BHEZ is the Kindness Rocks project, started by member Laurie Heyden, who works as a school psychologist in the Bristol-Warren School District. The project involves rocks that are painted with kind messages and distributed around certain areas in Bristol, such as parks and schools (including RWU). Summer camps, church groups and scout troops are among some of those who have helped to design the rocks. Recently, 90 students from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church made some of the rocks for a confirmation project. Two weeks later, they handed them out to family members, residents and staff at St. Elizabeth Manor, a nursing and rehab center in Bristol.

As for how students at RWU can get involved with the BHEZ, their working group meets monthly. Donna Darmody, director of Health Education and Alcohol/Drug Prevention coordinator at the university, attends these meetings, and the organization welcomes any students who wish to attend, as well. Spence suggested that groups of students could hold kindness rock painting events for distribution to different places in Bristol. She specifically named the Women’s Resource Center and the Grace Barker Nursing Home, which has said that their residents would love some of the rocks.

BHEZ also has a Suicide Prevention working group with RWU’s Public Safety Director, Steve Melaragno, as a member. This, too, is an open meeting that students can attend.

The Personal and Mental Wellness group usually meets on the last Tuesday of each month, at the Bristol Parks and Recreation Community Center from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Students can check the calendar on for updates on these meetings and those for the Suicide Prevention group. If students are interested in either of these group’s meetings, they can also email Spence for more information, at [email protected].