To spread mental health awareness amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Peer Resource held their annual Peer Benefit show on Friday, April 23, streamed live on Twitch from 5-6:30 p.m., to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The event featured 11 acts with speakers, singers, dancers, and musicians. This year’s theme was “Six Feet Closer;” as Peer Resource organized the show to focus on finding ways to connect with one another even in a time of extreme isolation.
MSJ Class of 2020 Alumna Kira Sano was the first to speak, and she discussed her history of struggling with her physical, mental, and emotional health. After reaching her lowest point, she began to take control of her body and mind again, joining Relay for Life in high school and becoming Youth Chair of the American Cancer Society.
Sophomore Devanshi Wasson also spoke about her personal experience with mental health as a high school student, hoping to dissolve the stigma around mental health.
Next, Junior Tias Ghosh discussed the necessity of communities coming together to stand up against the past year’s racial injustices. Though the speech did not focus on mental health, Acts/peakers/Script Co-Head Senior Diya Lonial said, “I think it was really important to add, because it touched on a lot of things that happened in the past year … and provided resources to help those in need.”
The last speaker of the day, Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine Psychiatric Professor Dr. Judy Silberg, then stepped in to discuss the science surrounding mental health. She spoke about how the biological implications of mental illness make it just as concrete as any physical disease before stressing the importance of taking care of one’s mental health.
Along with the speakers, the Peer Benefit Show also included musical performances. There were seven total performances, which included Gregory’s Big Band’s play on “Whiplash” by Hank Levy, arranged by Erik Morales, and Juniors Irene Seo and Alicia Wang performed a hip hop dance to “Smile” by Johnny Stimson.
To close out the show, Seniors Rishi Baskar and Soham Saha performed “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” by Shawn Mendes to highlight the significance of bravery in the face of adversity. Sophomore Amulya Harish said, “I really enjoyed [their] performance … The vocals were really powerful [and] the song choice helped end the show with a feeling of unity and hope.”
Peer Resource split the entire class of 41 students into four committees: Acts/Speakers/Script, Tech/Video, Publicity/Fundraising, and Graphics. Beginning the week of February 15, weekly Wednesday morning meetings from 7:05-7:55 a.m. were added to their schedule in preparation for the Peer Benefit Show. Peer Resource took over a month to fully plan the event.
Putting together a fully virtual show was definitely a new experience that posed its own challenges. “We were immersed into an entirely new situation. None of us knew how to use Twitch or Streamlabs, and only a handful of us had video editing experience. The learning curve was pretty steep,” Tech/Video Co-Head Senior Sahil Singh said.
Despite the initial obstacles, Peer Resource is happy with the show’s turnout; at the peak, they had 120 concurrent viewers and raised $340 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They found ways to get the student body to interact with Peer Resource members in a virtual setting, such as through their Dare Fundraiser, where people could give specific dares to Peer Resource members for a price, and Twitch chat.
In addition to reducing the stigma around mental health and shedding more light on the topic, Peer Resource hopes that the show could bring a sense of normalcy and comfort to the audience. Singh said, “Even though we’re all socially isolated in our homes, and we barely get to see our friends, we are all going through this together, and because of that, we’re not really alone.”
As the organization wraps up its Peer Benefit Show, Peer Resource is working on the class’s structure for next year. “We didn’t expect this much traction for the show, especially with the shift to the virtual platform. I’m really proud of us for pulling this off and I hope we can continue the things that we’ve learned online for next year, specifically, our social media campaigns,” Publicity/Fundraising Head Varun Sridhar said.