Now a sophomore at Stanford University, Salem created The Purple Hydrangea Project, a nonprofit organization centered around improving mental health support and resources, in high school.
“The changes that I wanted to make were a lot more local, a lot more focus on a certain demographic, them being young kids,” she said. “Our main goal is to fight to eliminate the stigma around mental health, and ultimately, foster an environment of understanding in which everyone can feel safe in reaching out for help without the fear of being judged, ignored, or shunned.”
The organization hosts projects within the community for elementary students to spread more importance and awareness on mental health.
During the summer, the team went to elementary school districts and campaign for more mental health curriculum and projects. At one school district, they formed a partnership with the Director of Health and district behavioral counselors, where the team was asked to present behavioral health lessons at the local elementary schools.
Not only has their breadth of projects grown, but the team has also increased significantly throughout their year and a half of operation. Although they started as a team of 10-11 high schoolers, it’s grown to 70 team members. The organization’s Instagram page also boasts 1.6K followers.
“We also have chapters being set up over the country; we currently have two currently running in Southern California,” Salem said. “These chapters started up in high schools, and they operate under the parent organization of The Purple Hydrangea Project, but they do even more localized mental health projects in their own communities.”
During the pandemic, Salem also fostered a partnership with Simply Neuroscience, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes conferences and projects to increase students’ interests in neuroscience and psychology.
“We spoke at their Simply Neuroscience Conference this summer and we’re just continuing to expand on other projects that fall into our mission,” she said. “I feel people like they want to help, but they just don’t know. So we’re just trying to create courses that will be able to like help people fill in those gaps, so then they will be able to help their loved ones when they’re going through mental health crises.”
However, throughout all the growth of The Purple Hydrangea project, Salem says that one of the most meaningful projects she’s initiated is at the start of the organization’s founding.
One of the team members had interned in a classroom with emotionally-disabled children and shared her experience with the rest of the team. The members then decided to fundraise money from donations to host a toy drive for that classroom.
“These kids sometimes grow up in like tough families where they’re not really able to get the things they want. It’s like a tough situation to be in, so being able to give them something and see the look on their faces upon receiving that was really, really gratifying to see,” Salem said.
Apart from working with the elementary level, the team also has hosted presentations in colleges, one of them being the California State University, Los Angeles.
“We pretty much hosted a presentation on self-care, taking care of yourself and strategies on how to do certain coping mechanisms,” she said. “It was really cool to see people interacting, sharing their like own experiences, hearing discussions that popped up and people learning from each other about what they can do to better take care of themselves.”
The organization has also partnered with a publishing company to produce a book destigmatizing mental health in various communities. Speaking toward the future, Salem says that she hopes to further the organization’s mission while continuing to diversify the depth of projects.
“Fostering a sense of community is something we really prioritize. I want to continue sharing the mental health journeys of people to promote empathy and a deeper understanding of these issues,” Salem said.