'Into the Light' fundraiser at Rutgers raises over $50k for mental health awareness
When sisters Artemis and Sophia Mazzini set off for Rutgers, they had no idea that their college career would be shaped by a devastating situation within their family.
In 2016, their father Philip Mazzini, the rock and shoulder for support for both sisters, took his own life.
Both sisters describe their father as a natural leader and as a man who would go out of his way to help others, who was respected by everyone who he crossed paths with. It was an incredibly difficult time for both of them, but with the support of others, they decided to work to change society's attitude toward mental illness.
To honor their father, raise awareness and help others who are struggling, the sisters have organized the "Into the Light: A 5k for Mental Health Awareness" walk at Rutgers on Sept. 23.
The event has already fundraised more than $51,000 of its $60,000 goal, which will all go to the American Suicide Prevention Foundation.
After their father's death, Artemis, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, and Sophia Mazzini, a Rutgers Business School sophomore, recall confusion surrounding his death, and people spreading false rumors about how he died.
“People would come up to me and … they talk about suicide like suicide is so selfish ... it’s just because people don’t really understand depression, and what it does to you and how it changes you,” Sophia Mazzini said. “So we just wanted people to be more aware of mental health, mental illnesses and understand them more.”
Rutgers students and organizations have been particularly open to helping “Into the Light” be as successful as possible, they said.
Gamma Phi Beta, the sorority in which both Artemis and Sophia Mazzini are both sisters, helped organize a bagel breakfast during last semester’s finals, and the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) and the Rutgers University Programming Association (RUPA) discussed a mental health week leading up to the awareness walk, Sophia Mazzini said.
The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille in North Brunswick reached out to the two sisters, and together they organized a daylong fundraiser open for all ages, with beer pong for those who are 21 years or older. Twenty percent of the restaurant's proceeds that day will go toward their event, Artemis Mazzini said.
Artemis and Sophia Mazzini hope to make this an annual event, with the hopes of creating a scholarship to help college students and a national organization.
Organizing the charity walk confirmed Artemis Mazzini's passion for event organizing and helping others, making her realize that it is a line of work she would like to pursue as a career.
"... People used to say to me it's meant to be and I never believed it, but maybe it is meant to be," Artemis Mazzini said. "Maybe this will be the start of my journey to kind of really inspiring others and showing that I can take something that is so ... horrifying, and make it into something where I'm helping so many other people ..."
She has already taken steps toward a career in event-planning for charities and organizations and interned at Project375, New York Giants' wide receiver Brandon Marshall's mental health advocacy organization.
"I think I realized that it is normal to not feel okay sometimes, and a lot of the times why suicide happens, many times with college students, a lot of times also as we saw with my dad, where a 50-year-old man is afraid to say that he's feeling a certain type of way because of a stigma, people don't reach out for help," Artemis Mazzini said. "Because they think that it's not okay to not feel okay."
Sophia Mazzini found inspiration for "Into the Light" from her father's spirit and his desire to help others, and to carry on his legacy and pursue something that he would have wanted them to do.
“I looked up to him a lot because he was a leader … he went out of his way to do kind acts,” Sophia Mazzini said. “... He would see one little piece of garbage on the ground across the street two blocks over and he would go out of his way just to pick it up.”
She said that people have already been reaching out to them thanking them for their work and for speaking out because they have gone through similar experiences in their family.
Both sisters advise seeking out help if anyone experiences anxiety, depression or any other form of mental illness. They said if someone sees a family member or friend struggling, that it is important to talk to them and encourage them to seek out help in a way that does not make them feel like a victim.
"We just want to help people be able to talk about it more, to be able to understand their feelings more, their friends' feelings more, and treat it like the disease it is and not just somebody who is emotional," Sophia Mazzini said.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that all proceeds of the fundraiser at The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille would go to the campaign. Twenty percent of the proceeds will be going to the campaign.
Alexandra DeMatos is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and women's and gender studies. She is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @dematosaa for more.