Sam Fiorella

Bench helps with tough conversations

NANAIMO – Foundation aims to get students talking about issues with mental health.

Lucas Fiorella was walking down the hallway of high school when he stopped and said hello to female student.

It was a simple act that led to an entire conservation about the girl’s battle with depression and her thoughts of suicide.

Fortunately, the girl didn’t take her own life, but got the help she needed thanks in large part to Lucas.

It was a story told by the girl at Lucas’ funeral. In October of 2014, Lucas was attending Carlton University in Ottawa when he took his own life. His family would later discover that he spent years battling depression.

“He didn’t talk to his friends about it and he certainly didn’t talk to his parents about it,” said Lucas’ father, Sam Fiorella.

Inspired by stories of his son’s support for others, Fiorella is now the co-founder of the Lucas Fiorella Friendship Bench, a non-profit organization that installs bright yellow benches at secondary and post-secondary institutions across the country in an effort to promote mental health awareness.

On Thursday, Fiorella was at Vancouver Island University, where he, along with university faculty and members of CUPE Local 1858, officially unveiled a friendship bench during a ceremony in the school’s cafeteria.

Speaking to a large crowd, Fiorella said he heard stories about his son being there for others just by simply saying ‘hello’ and that the friendship bench is intended to be a conversation piece for mental health.

“The message that we want to leave to all the students is that every time you see this bench is to remember to take a minute out of your day and talk,” Fiorella said.

“Think about your own mental health and begin to look and care and listen to what your friends are saying because if they don’t have the courage or ability to speak maybe you will have the ability to speak on their behalf,” Fiorella said.

Inscribed on each bench is a link to the organization’s website, which provides links and resources to various mental health agencies, along with the hashtag #YellowIsForHello, which is a campaign run by organization to promote mental health awareness.

“Our goal with this program is that every student on this campus knows that it is OK to talk about stress, to recognize that stress is completely normal,” Fiorella said.

The first friendship bench was installed in 2015 at Carlton University, six months after Lucas’ death, followed by a second one at Lucas’ former high school in Oakville, Ont. Today, there are dozens of benches at schools nationwide, including Simon Fraser University and Centennial College in Toronto.

Fiorella said since the first two benches were installed, schools across the country have been reaching out to his organization. He’s been amazed at all the support.

“We honestly thought we were going to have one or two benches and I didn’t know what kind of support we were going to have,” he said. “The support from the students has been completely overwhelming. Most benches that we are installing on campuses are because the students are demanding them and that is the most surprising to me.”

Vancouver Island University is the first location on the Island to install a friendship bench.

For more information, please visit https://thefriendshipbench.org/.

Just Posted

Dogs, dogs and more dogs in Nanoose this weekend

Nanaimo Kennel Club hosts annual show

Ninth annual Vancouver Island Chamber Music Festival comes to Nanaimo

Performances to take place over two days at St. Paul’s Anglican Church

Nanaimo dancer to join ‘renowned’ European ballet company

Nico Janssen to teach classes at Vibe Studios before joining Royal Danish Ballet

New Nanaimo fire hall plans unveiled

Nanaimo Fire Rescue hopes new station will be operational by 2022

Students at central Nanaimo school kept indoors due to bear sighting

B.C. Conservation en route to Coal Tyee school, says Nanaimo school district

VIDEO: First Nations, developer call for return and protection of sacred B.C. burial site

Dozens of First Nations leaders gather on grassy plateau to call on action by provincial government

Suspect arrested following gunpoint robbery in Qualicum Beach

Stop and Shop Grocery was robbed June 5; man now in custody

Teen stabbed after end-of-night limo dispute in downtown Vancouver

A young man, 19, is in serious condition following a dispute between two groups

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Peer at Jupiter this weekend with Nanaimo Astronomy Society

Viewing of Jupiter and moons scheduled for Maffeo Sutton Park on Saturday night

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

LETTER: British Columbia’s forest industry crisis being made worse

Andrew Wilkinson warns of regulatory overload by John Horgan’s NDP

Convicted B.C. child abductor Randall Hopley back in custody 6 months after release

Correctional Services Canada could not provide further details due to privacy concerns

Most Read