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Mental health garden
Jackie Baillargeon and Ken Zimmerman, parents of Jared Zimmerman, speak at the July 15 Board of Education meeting. With them are MHS graduates Misty Avinger and Marley Pradieu, who are coordinating a memorial garden to raise awareness of mental illness. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

A mental health project started in memory of a Montclair High School graduate is expected to be taking root in the near future, in the most literal sense.

Jared’s Fund was started in memory of 2015 graduate Jared Zimmerman.

In 2016, Jared died at the age of 20. He had been coping with mental illness for the three years prior to his death.

Jared’s family established Jared’s Fund in their son’s memory, with an official launch at Montclair High School in April.

2019 Montclair High School graduates Misty Avinger and Marley Pradieu are organizing a memorial garden at the school, and a student group to help foster the garden.

The garden is intended to stand as a reminder to the struggles of mental illness or mental health some students experience.

Avinger and Pradieu were among the four groups of students that received the first fellowships from Jared’s Fund.

The proposal submitted to Jared’s Fund calls for the formation of Jared’s Club — a club at the school dedicated to addressing mental health stigma among students, and the creation of a garden that will provide a place for students to relax and study, and will honor those who have experienced mental health issues.

At the July 15 BOE meeting, Jared’s parents, Jackie Baillargeon and Ken Zimmerman, spoke briefly about their son and reducing stigma around mental illness in young people. “Invest in them,” Zimmerman said.

Avinger said mental health issues have reached epidemic status in Montclair, with many students struggling to deal with failure.

Pradieu spoke on the therapeutic benefits of gardening and how their idea took root.

The first phase of the garden will include a planter near the George Inness Annex.

All four projects funded through Jared’s Fund were announced on April 15, the third anniversary of Jared’s death.

Kimoni DePass will be doing research at Wynona’s House, a child and family advocacy center in Newark.

Isabel Bauer-Nathan and Samantha Levine are doing research on mental health education for younger students, especially middle school students.

Ari Westreich, who is now attending Wesleyan University, created an Instagram page called AskWes to encourage college-age students to talk about mental health issues. The fellowship from Jared’s Fund will build on AskWes, and will help college administrators and faculty understand more about what students are going through.