USC Hillel: Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 2, 2021
Dave Cohn, Allen & Ruth Ziegler Executive Director
New Jewish Wellness Curriculum, Reslience-Themed Podcast and Counseling Services
Aim to Support USC Students’ Mental Health
USC Hillel expands portfolio of outreach platforms.
LOS ANGELES – As college students across the country grapple with unprecedented mental health struggles, the University of Southern California Hillel has launched new wellness promotion efforts designed to reach a broader audience through its groundbreaking Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative. The new programs, including a Jewish wellness cohort curriculum specifically designed for college students and a podcast on young adult mental health, build on the existing success of the initative which provides counseling services to 10 students per week and innovative programming to improve mental health on campus and beyond.
The Initiative, established in 2019 with lead funding from Andrea and Glenn Sonnenberg in memory of their son and supported by a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, has positioned USC Hillel as a center for wellness on campus and inspired Hillel affiliates nationwide to prioritize wellness programming.
Pre-pandemic college student mental health was already a crisis. Eighty percent of university presidents said student mental health was more of a priority than in the previous three years and 62 percent of students reported feelings of overwhelming anxiety. Since the start of the pandemic, 60 percent of students said accessing mental health care had become more difficult and 66 percent report feeling lonely and isolated from others.
Since initiating service in November of 2019, USC Hillel’s embedded counseling services have offered support to 46 unique student clients and provided 475 hours of individual therapy. The service has had a transformative impact on the students it served. One student shared, “I lost my mother unexpectedly in the fall of 2019, and COVID occurred shortly thereafter. In the midst of these tragedies, the single biggest defining factor in my recovery has been USC Hillel Counseling. I can't thank USC Hillel enough.”
There are now 13 campus Hillels that have either clinical social workers on staff or professionals dedicated to wellness promotion. Hillel International is working to accelerate and help scale this to more campuses for the 2022-23 school year.
The initiative has also offered a series of public-facing programs geared toward families, published a monthly “Wellness Guide” for students with a blend of Jewish wisdom, recommended practices, and community resources, hosted live sessions on Instagram with influential field leaders reaching 150-200 viewers weekly and maintained an emphasis on student-organized activities that promote healthy, balanced living. The initiative has grown to support two professional roles, one dedicated to counseling services and another focused on wellness promotion.
“In our first two years we have seen the centrality of holistic well-being to our student-centered work powerfully validated,” said Dave Cohn, the Allen and Ruth Ziegler Executive Director at USC Hillel. “The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened and magnified the mental health challenges young people face today. For as much progress as we’ve made in offering mental health counseling, creating resources for families, and emphasizing wellness throughout our Hillel, our experience has also positioned us to pursue new horizons in expanding access for a broader range of students and communities at USC.”
To meet the growing need for support, the programs launching this fall include a newly commissioned wellness cohort curriculum, created in collaboration between USC Hillel Wellness Director Leenie Baker, LA-based social worker Eve Wettstein Meyerson, and Hillel International’s Engagement and Wellness team. The curriculum will curate a blend of Jewish wisdom, modern research-based principles, and practical skills to train a new group of students each semester, who will in turn serve as ambassadors to diverse communities across campus. Hillel International anticipates scaling this model to Hillel affiliates and campus organizations across the country.
“We plan to utilize a Jewish values-based curriculum that speaks to students' wellness needs and equips them with a wide range of tools and practices that they can integrate into their lives, and contextualizes the wellness conversation beyond the individual and including the whole community,” said Leenie Baker, Wellness Director at USC Hillel. “We are blessed to be on a campus that is increasingly prioritizing well-being in its policy choices and hope that this innovative curriculum can play a role in the campus-wide conversation about health promotion strategy through skill development, community action, and an emphasis on wellness promotion alongside crisis intervention.”
Hillel International and Hillels around the global have shifted to proirtize mental wellness through the HillelWell program. Hillel provides a space for meaningful peer relationships, supportive interactions with adults, connection to something larger than oneself and meaningful contributing to one’s community, which are all mental health protective factors. The goal of Hillel International’s wellness work is to further promote the well-being of students and staff through equipping Hillel professionals with the knowledge, skills and tools to effectively promote mental health and well-being; increasing student access to professional mental health supports and investing in our talent to ensure they have the skills and resources to sustain themselves in this work.
USC Hillel is also proud to be working with Andrea Sonnenberg on the new podcast “Getting Thru,” which addresses mental health among young adults — its challenges and pathways to success. The podcast features conversations with thriving young people who share stories of resilience in managing their struggles. The podcast launched on World Mental Health Day on October 10 and is widely available.
“So many of our young people are suffering from debilitating mental health issues,” said Andrea Sonnenberg. “And yet, some are ‘getting through.’ This podcast shares stories of resilience to help listeners feel less alone and offer hope that they too can have productive and fulfilling lives.” In addition to her podcast, Andrea Sonnenberg actively advocates for mental health awareness, hosting "Our Mental Healthcare Crisis: One Mother's Cry for Change", a talk that addresses mental health warning signs, family dynamics and destigmatization. You can find her talk schedule here.
About USC Hillel and Hillel International
USC Hillel is the Center of Jewish Life at USC, engaging over 70% of our 2,000+ Jewish student population annually. Our mission is to enrich the lives of our students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. Fostering meaningful Jewish experiences, USC Hillel develops leaders and inspires young Jewish Trojans to make an enduring commitment to Jewish life. We offer a welcoming environment, nurturing space to build strong Jewish community, and an emphasis on peer-to-peer relationship building among an actively engaged student base. USC Hillel offers opportunities for students to become leaders, mentors, and community members with the greater USC and Los Angeles communities.
USC Hillel is affiliated with Hillel International. Founded in 1923, Hillel has been enriching the lives of Jewish students for more than 90 years. Today, Hillel International is a global organization that welcomes students of all backgrounds and fosters an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel. Hillel is dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. As the largest Jewish student organization in the world, Hillel builds connections with emerging adults at more than 550 colleges and universities, and inspires them to direct their own path. During their formative college years, students are challenged to explore, experience, and create vibrant Jewish lives. For more information visit Hillel.org.