“We’re so glad you’re here”

CNU’s Department of Communication hosts mental health concert fundraiser

“We’re so glad you’re here,” little Emily “Mimi” Bartley sang cheerfully in a rendition of “So Glad You’re Here” by Imagination Movers as her sparkly sequin dress twinkled under the bright stage lights. “It wouldn’t be the same without ya.”

On the evening of Sept. 9, the Gaines Theater in the Freeman Center was filled with students and members of the Newport News community, coming together in a communal effort to support the arts and mental health care on campus and beyond.

These audience members had been lining up outside the doors before the event officially started, eager to see the show.

CNU students, alumni, employees and members from the surrounding community came together to perform in “So Glad You’re Here.”

The title of the event encompassed the overall message that the performers wanted to send to everyone in the audience that night, especially those dealing with mental health issues.

The event was comprised of two acts, during each of which cast members sang and danced to songs from popular Broadway musicals such as “Newsies,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Misérables,” as well as the titular song “So Glad You’re Here” by the popular children’s musical group Imagination Movers.

Dancers, singers and actors all had their chance to shine in the performance.

“So Glad You’re Here” was sponsored by Christopher Newport’s Department of Communication.

The proceeds for the event went to benefit Christopher Newport’s Office of Counseling Services to create more opportunities for students to receive mental health care on campus.

Admission was donation-based at whatever price audience members wanted to give to the cause.

The final song the cast performed for the audience was “You Will Be Found” from the musical Dear Evan Hansen.

As the cast sang, a projector screen came down from the ceiling, and across it came messages that included, “Globally, the WHO [World Health Organization] estimates 1 in 4 people affected by mental or neurological disorders,” “1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness in a given year,” and “Mental health needs to come out of the shadows.”

After the cast took their final bows as the show’s second act concluded, a talkback was held for members of the audience who were interested in learning about the inspiration behind the event and how to find resources for mental health support.

CNU faculty, staff and a student answered questions in a panel moderated by Dr. Danielle Stern, an associate professor in CNU’s Department of Communication.

Summer Fitzpatrick, a senior Sociology major at CNU, is currently taking Dr. Stern’s class Mental Health and Popular Culture.

“For our special topics class, we had to read an article about musical theater and the role that plays in starting conversations for mental health,” Fitzpatrick said.

“A quote I picked out was, ‘Art is one of the best tools for social change.’ It acts as a conversation starter: being able to watch something and being like, ‘Oh, I recognize that, I’ve experienced that, this person close to me has experienced that.’ The more we talk, the less stigma there is.”

Emily Giegrich, Executive Secretary of the College of Social Sciences Dean’s office, is a member of WATCH, which stands for Wellness Action Team for Captain’s Health.

WATCH exists to promote physical and mental wellness on campus.

“It’s aimed at joining students, faculty, staff, around the community enhancing wellness holistically, not just [with] mental health,” Giegrich said.

“This ties into a lot of our goals of promoting communication of and awareness about mental health and wellness among students, faculty and staff.”

“When you bring these issues to something like a musical, you bring it to the masses and you’re reaching people in a variety of different way,” said Dr. Gina Polychronopolous, Assistant Director of Assessment at CNU.

She has work experience in many mental health studies, community services and inpatient facilities.

“People in the audience are relating to all kinds of aspects on the stage, to characters, to moods and to feelings. It’s a way to bring it into pop culture and get it accessible to everybody.”

Dr. Linda Manning is an associate professor in the Department of Communication, and one of her teaching areas of interest is sustainability.

“When people think about sustainability, a lot of times they only think about the environment,” she said, “but sustainability is… the ability for us to live together as a community. We have to figure out how to support each other and understand that there are differences and different experiences that people have.”

~Anna Dorl, Lifestyle Editor~

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