First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was greeted by Mt. Pleasant Mayor William Joseph when she landed around 12:30pm Sunday at MBS International airport on her way to speak with members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.
Dr. Biden and U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, held a listening session on youth mental health at Mt. Pleasant’s Ziibiwing Center- highlighting how the tribe serves the mental health needs of youth and their families through a Project AWARE grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
On the road leading into the center, a small group of protestors were holding signs drawn up with statements like “TRUMP WON” and “#FJB.”
Tim Davis, Chief of Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe; Melissa Isaac, Director of Education/Project AWARE; Dr. Kehli Henry, Project AWARE Coordinator; and two members of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Youth Council met with Dr. Biden and accompanying officials alongside a group of a dozen Chippewa tribe members who performed a traditional ceremonial greeting featuring dancing, singing and drums.
Project AWARE (which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education) is a five-year grant program administered by the DHHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and aims to increase awareness of mental health issues by training educators and other adults who interact with school-aged youth on how to detect and respond to mental health issues, as well as connect children and families who may need mental health support with the appropriate services.
The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe’s Project AWARE program serves students across three education agencies: the Tribe’s Saginaw Chippewa Academy, Mount Pleasant Public Schools, and Shepherd Public Schools.
Several actions to support and expand Project AWARE have been made by Biden Administration officials, including:
-President Biden’s 2022 discretionary budget request including a $60 million funding increase for Project AWARE, for a total of $191.5 million.
-Providing $30 million for Project AWARE through the American Rescue Plan.
-In August 2021, SAMHSA announced $54.3 million in first-year funding for 17 grantees, which includes two Native American tribes.
The First Lady mostly listened to participants detail their experiences involving mental health and trauma. She asked staff from Project AWARE to detail what they are doing to help students with mental health and loss, to which they replied that they hold therapy groups for issues like social anxiety and provide comfort dogs for children in schools. Students are also provided with “calming corners” in the classroom, where they can move temporarily to take a mental health break while still listening to the teacher.
Dr. Biden talked about how some of the money from the American Rescue Plan was provided to teachers and stressed that teachers should be taught in their own training how to teach students to normalize prioritizing mental health.
She also spoke about practices the staff at the college where she teaches take to support each other, and the importance of infusing positivity into her students’ lives.
Dr. Biden, who made an exit from the area around 4pm, has stops scheduled in Detroit before leaving for Charleston, South Carolina.