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Susquehanna Life

Harnessing the Power of Creative Expression: Body and Soul

By Jennifer Pencek

Suicide statistics are sobering. The work of the Jana Marie Foundation has never been more important. 

Jana Vicere was a beautiful, creative young woman who had an unwavering commitment to helping others. Despite her vibrant personality and zest for life, she battled depression. This made it difficult for her to find her path and ultimately led to her death by suicide in 2011 at the age of 30. 

After Jana’s death, her family took action and created the Jana Marie Foundation in 2012. Since its inception, the foundation has harnessed the power of creative expression and dialogue to spark conversations, build connections and promote mental well-being in young people and their communities. 

The need

One in six young people seriously considers suicide; one in eight has a plan; and one in 10 attempts it. The work of the Jana Marie Foundation has never been more important, said Marisa Vicere, Jana’s sister and the executive director and founder of the foundation. 

“Over the past six years we have reached thousands of community members, providing hope and demonstrating that no one is alone,” Marisa said. “We envision communities working together to knock down walls and transform emotional distress into resilience and hope. We want to continue to open minds and save lives.”

Located in State College but facilitating programs across the region, the Jana Marie Foundation reaches hundreds of adolescents each year through 11 signature programs that empower young people to practice self-respect, maintain healthy relationships and find their voice.

“Through our educational programs, Jana Marie Foundation ensures that parents, teachers and adults have the most relevant information to help support youth through their transitional years,” Marisa said. “The foundation strengthens the connections young people have with their peers, family, educators, and community, lending support to celebrate achievements and providing comfort during adversity.”

The way

Youth programs include wellness workshops, a mother/daughter retreat, Mind Matters resilience curriculum and a parent-teen program called Connect, among others. Parents and educators often participate in Straight Talk conversations on various topics, Candid Conversations (web-based videos) and the educational courses Mental Health First Aid and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Suicide Prevention for Gatekeepers. Community projects range from Mokita Dialogues, which are monthly community dialogues addressing topics like poverty, suicide, disabilities and other “elephants in the room;” and Stompers, which involves working with local artists, schools and organizations to create life-sized sculptures of people formed out of old sneakers. The sculptures are called “Stompers” to acknowledge their symbolic role in helping to stomp out stigma.

The foundation embraces a passion of Jana’s—art. Studies have shown that art and creative endeavors promote dialogue, reduce stress and anxiety, increase self-awareness, and improve overall mental, physical and emotional well-being. Marisa said her family saw that firsthand with Jana. 

“That is why we promote self-confidence through the power of art, music and creative expression,” Marisa said. “It is often the stories that we feel we can’t share that isolate us. By using creative outlets, we help young people find their voice and the courage to use it.”

Learn more about the Jana Marie Foundation, including details on programs, events and resources, at

Jennifer Pencek is a freelance writer based in State College and programming coordinators of the Gender Equity Center at Penn State University.

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