HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Isabella “Izy” Hess, a 19-year-old college student from western Massachusetts and a recipient of the prestigious Girl Scout Gold Award, was recognized on Tuesday, August 15, by MiraVista Behavioral Health Center.

She received the coveted “You-Have-Our AdMIRAtion Award” for her commendable efforts in educating young children and their caregivers about the significance of mental health.

Hess, a rising sophomore, authored “When I’m Worried,” a project deeply influenced by her own experiences with anxiety and emotional well-being. Her initiative was a significant undertaking as part of her journey to achieve the 2023 Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts Gold Award – the highest accolade in Girl Scouting. Hess dedicated over 180 hours to create the picture book, along with engaging discussions with young readers and their parents.

Courtesy of MiraVista Behavioral Health Center

Kimberley Lee, Chief of Creative Strategy and Development at MiraVista, emphasized the urgency of addressing rising rates of anxiety and depression among children aged 3 to 17. Lee praised Hess for crafting a compelling message, enhanced by her personal therapeutic experience, which aligns seamlessly with MiraVista’s mission of individualized mental health intervention.

“We are proud to honor Izy and her educational work with MiraVista’s AdMIRAtion Award. The award recognizes community members for what they do to engage and improve the lives of others, and Izy’s book project, informed by her own mental health experience, is aimed at helping youth stay emotionally healthy with the support of the adults in their lives,” stated Lee.

Hess expressed her surprise and gratitude for receiving the AdMIRAtion Award. She acknowledged her lifelong struggle with anxiety, which hindered her social and emotional development until she began talk therapy at the age of nine.

“When I’m Worried” features three central characters – Jacob, May, and Lily – each from distinct family backgrounds, navigating stressors common to their age group. Hess intended the book for elementary school-aged children and younger, complemented by illustrations crafted by her high school friend and artist, Allison Hoffman.

“My hope is for young people to learn from the book that there are things they can do to make themselves feel better about the emotions they are having and for parents to see how very little kids can experience anxiety even around things they don’t need to worry about, but that these feelings are still real and should be treated as such,” Hess said.

The book offers valuable coping mechanisms, drawing from Hess’s own experiences during her early therapy sessions. Jacob learns deep breathing techniques to ease his first-day-of-school jitters, May confronts her fear of the dark with the help of her two fathers, and Lily finds solace in guided meditation videos provided by her single father.

With aspirations of a psychology-related career, Hess grew up in a small town in Central Massachusetts. She emphasized her parents’ crucial support in recognizing the importance of emotional well-being in a child’s life.

“I am still an anxious person, but one much better equipped to cope with it today thanks to good mental health care at a young age,” Hess said. “Prejudice and discrimination continue to make it difficult for many young people to accept that they need help for a mental health challenge and to say this out loud, especially if their parents are not open to them going to therapy.”

Hess emphasized the importance of seeking therapy and debunking societal stigmas surrounding mental health challenges. She urged for a more open and compassionate dialogue on par with discussions about physical health.

The positive reception of “When I’m Worried” further ignited Hess’s aspiration to become an author. To spread her message, she conducted a bake sale fundraiser to secure copies of her book for library presentations. The book resonated with young readers, sparking discussions about coping skills and empowering them to address their worries.

In addition to receiving the AdMIRAtion award, MiraVista donated 20 copies of Hess’ book to youth and children-serving organizations.

Hess’ book is available on Amazon.

Local News

WWLP-22News, an NBC affiliate, began broadcasting in March 1953 providing local news, network, syndicated, and local programming to western Massachusetts. Follow 22News on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram