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

VIU staff go rock-hunting in Nanaimo for grade-school geology courses

University’s earth science department creating introductory teaching kits for schools

VIEX now in full swing

Vancouver Island Exhibition gets underway in Nanaimo

Retired Nanoose Bay teacher ‘Set for Life’ after $675K lottery win

Shannon plans to buy new sails for his sailboat

Nanaimo Arts Council membership showing work in Ladysmith

Island Living Art Show opens at the Waterfront Gallery on Aug. 24

Volunteers needed for Grandparents Day event in Nanaimo

Picnic will take place Sept. 8 at Bowen Park

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

Beefs & Bouquets, Aug. 22

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail bulletinboard@nanaimobulletin.com

VIEX all set for 125th anniversary fair

Vancouver Island Exhibition taking place at Nanaimo’s Beban Park from Aug. 23-25

Expanded support to help B.C. youth from care attend university still falling short

Inadequate support, limited awareness and eligibility restrictions some of the existing challenges

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Cross-examination begins for B.C. dad accused of killing young daughters

Andrew Berry is charged in the deaths of six-year-old Chloe and four-year-old Aubrey in 2017

Dog attacked by river otters, Penticton owner says

Marie Fletcher says her dog was pulled underwater by four river otters in the Penticton Channel

BC SPCA overwhelmed with cats, kittens needing homes

Large number of cruelty investigations, plus normal ‘kitten season’ to blame

Most Read