HIGHLANDS RANCH — Students in the Douglas County School District are hoping their new shirts will do more than pick up a few compliments.
Melanie Zhou, Rohan Nipunge and Mia Hayden, all juniors at ThunderRidge High School, plan to use their clothes to create positive change for their peers' mental health. They're motivated by a tough 2017-2018 school year when the students' principal died after a long bout with cancer, Zhou's mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and Hayden lost a friend to suicide.
"It's something that kind of shakes your world and really puts it into perspective," Hayden said. "It changes the whole dynamic of your school."
Zhou, Nipunge and Hayden created a non-profit called Oasis Mental Health which uses fashion to raise money for mental health resources for students.
One goal of the group is to create what they call a physical oasis at their school and others in Douglas County School District.
"It's a safe space in school, sort of like a student lounge, that you go into, relax, debrief and really find a place that you can feel happy," Nipunge said. "You don't need to think about over-exertion of school and the regular school stresses that you feel in class."
Zhou said she also wants some of the money to be spent on "bridge the gap we see between mental resources and accessibility to students."
Oasis Mental Health moved closer to achieving its goal when it was awarded a $10,000 grant by the Social Incubator Fight Back Foundation which "works to give our startups access to mentors, funders and partners to tackle the problem from all sides and set them up for a sustainable, successful future," according to its website.
"It was mind-blowing," Nipunge said describing the win over 11 other finalists.
Part of the grant will be spent on sustaining the organization, including establishing an LLC and a website to help spread the students' message. The rest will be put toward achieving their goal for better mental health resources.
"Now, we're here and it's amazing," Zhou said. "We can actually make the change we see needed in our community."
Zhou, Nipunge and Hayden plan to start by making changes to their own school but hope to make a difference across the district by the time they graduate, next year.