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The healing power of mentorship: High school students battle mental health issues

Ava McCarville credits her mentor, César Galarza for improving her mental health
Posted at 6:07 AM, May 12, 2021

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Navigating high school from her bedroom has been challenging for Ava McCarville, a Junior at Maryvale High School.

“I really didn’t think I was gonna go anywhere. I really didn’t think I was gonna get my high school diploma, I kind of just felt like giving up, I was going down like a dark path," said McCarville.

She stopped doing assignments, stopped exercising and stopped talking to friends.

Ava McCarville likes to escape to nature for comfort
Ava McCarville likes to escape to nature for comfort

"Going through depression and anxiety already makes you feel like it’s a never ending thing. It can make you feel like you’ve felt that way forever and you will feel that way forever," said McCarville.

While she was at her lowest, Compeer of Greater Buffalo started its school-based mentoring program called Maryvale Leaders at her school. That’s where she met her mentor César Galarza.

"We meet regularly, twice a week, we talk about career development, about future goals and about hobbies—she likes dogs, she loves her dog and she loves animals," said Galarza, a Compeer volunteer and Buffalo State student getting his Bachelor's degree in Social Work.

César is a local pastor, earning his degree in social work
César is a local pastor, earning his degree in social work

McCarville says she's never had this kind of support.

"He doesn’t like pressure me to do work or whatever, he’s not like how a teacher would be like ‘you need to do this,’ but like, he’s motivating in the sense of making sure I don’t feel overwhelmed with school work," said McCarville.

This program was originally supposed to take place in person. Galarza says he was worried they wouldn't be able to help Ava or build a relationship through a computer screen.

"That has not been the case and like she said we talk about what could be done, not what she has to do. You think you come to encourage someone, but you end up being encouraged by her,” said Galarza.

Compeer received a 3-year grant from BlueFund (BlueCross BlueShield) to start a mentoring program in the Maryvale School District.
Compeer received a 3-year grant from BlueFund (BlueCross BlueShield) to start a mentoring program in the Maryvale School District.

The goal of this program is to create awareness and improve students’ overall mental health. One year into the program—and McCarville says she’s in a completely different headspace.

"Between the motivation from César and Mrs. Cookfair (Maryvale School Social Worker), we found a program and I will be graduating on time. If you asked me a year ago, I wouldn’t have cared whatsoever about getting my diploma," said McCarville.

After learning from each other this pair says they have a better understanding of the importance of mental health. And they want to help fight the stigma around getting help.

"We all at some point in our lives have struggled with mental health. I think everybody should know that there’s not something wrong with you and it’s just something you’re going through, and it’s better if you go through it with some friend," said Galarza.

McCarville is on track to graduate from Maryvale on time
McCarville is on track to graduate from Maryvale on time

It's easier for McCarville to open up to friends and family.

"At your absolute lowest, you think you’re going nowhere, but things can change, you just have to try. You have to want the help. You have to want to go somewhere to be able to do it," said McCarville.

Ava is one of 25 students in the Maryvale leaders program grades 4-12 grade getting this counseling. There’s another program like this in Lackawanna schools and with more funding, Compeer is looking to add this program to more school districts in the future.

To volunteer with Compeer, click here for more info. For information about their mentor program, click here.

Important Phone Numbers
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, the following resources are available 24/7:
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Services (local) 716-834-3131
  • Trans Lifeline 1-877-565-8860
  • Trans Lifeline Canada 1-877-330-6366