Students and community leaders are coming together for a special event to raise awareness and funds for teen mental health. The Menlo Voices for Hope student committee is presenting Music for Mental Health, a benefit concert April 3, 4 p.m., with performances, speakers and art at the Spieker Center on the campus of Menlo School.
The event highlights how students have looked to the arts as an outlet to cope with the pandemic, said Sean Nesamoney, a Menlo School junior who founded the Voices for Hope committee, which is made up of students who are "both interested in music and also passionate about mental health," he said.
Nesamoney knows the benefits of music firsthand — he's been singing since the age of 3, and now also enjoys playing piano and writing songs.
"Music has always been a huge part of my life," he said.
Nesamoney and fellow students formed the Voices for Hope committee in August 2021, with the aim of presenting one or two performances a year that would showcase the talents of students and faculty, but also raise awareness — the focus on mental health was spurred by the pandemic.
"As our school started to go back in person, I just noticed what an impact the pandemic had on students and teachers and everyone's mental health. So I recognized this as an issue that I was both passionate about, and deserved a lot of attention from this community. And I wanted to dedicate this event to it," he said.
Music for Mental Health is the first concert that the committee has organized — and Nesamoney said he hopes that it will become an annual tradition.
The event has received support from Menlo School's YLE (Year-long Engagement) program, for students who have special projects focused on community engagement.
"Being part of the program has been very helpful, as I've gotten a lot of support systems within Menlo and I've just gotten a lot of help and encouragement from a lot of teachers since this is a student-led group," he said.
The concert raises funds for the Children’s Health Council (CHC), a Peninsula-based nonprofit that offers mental health services to children, teens and young adults. The committee chose the nonprofit as the beneficiary for the concert because it aligned with their mission, according to Nesamoney.
"We wanted to support an organization that just improves accessibility to mental health care, even more than just raising awareness," he said.
Through individual sponsors, the project has already raised $25,000 for CHC, Nesamoney said.
The concert features music and dance performances by the Menlo School dance team, choir, orchestra, jazz band and individual students, as well as faculty members. The lineup has grown to include groups from other Peninsula schools — Woodside Priory and Gunn High School — and a video of a choral performance from students at St. Patrick's school in Chennai, India.
Underscoring the theme of how the arts have helped students navigate these challenging times, an art gallery, open during intermission, showcases visual arts and poetry by Menlo School students. Each artwork will be displayed with a blurb about what the piece means to the artist and how it has helped them during the pandemic, Nesamoney said
An unusual component for a benefit concert is a slate of speakers — community leaders and health experts who will be on hand to discuss how their organizations' work connects with teen mental health.
The inspiration to include speakers as part of the event came after Nesamoney's own experiences with TedX talks hosted at Menlo School last year.
"Especially because it is a concert not just to raise money or to play music, but it's also to raise awareness. I wanted to invite a few speakers to speak about the work that they've been doing in their fields and offer a little bit more knowledge to the Menlo community," he said.
The speaker lineup features Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube; Dr. Leanne Williams, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Stanford Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness; U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna; Dr. Lloyd B. Minor, Dean of Stanford University School of Medicine; Dr. Patty Crisostomo, Child Clinical Psychologist at The Children's Health Council and Than Healy, Head of Menlo School.
While the lineup focuses more heavily on healthcare experts, Nesamoney noted that it was important to represent social media, as its effects on teen mental health in particular are often debated.
Nesamoney said he hopes that the concert underscores for students in the audience how beneficial music and the arts can be to mental wellbeing, and for the audience at large, that they gain a better understanding of teen mental health issues, as well as the power of the arts.
"I hope they are both more informed about the impact that the pandemic has had on our mental health and what our community can do to strive for improvement of teen mental health, but also just grow to truly embrace and love performing the creative arts as much as we do," he said.
The Spieker Center for the Arts is located at Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave, Atherton. Tickets are $5. For more information, visit menlovoicesforhope.com.