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Girl Scout promotes reading to help teens deal with mental illness

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- All sorts of good things come from reading books.  We read books for pleasure and leisure, to get informed and be entertained, to be better at work, to stimulate our minds and for many other reasons.  And as this week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever turns the page on her mental health challenges, she shows us we can also read for recovery.

Sixteen-year-old Teresa Shockley is drawn to books, especially ones like The Perks of Being a Wallflower that have encouraging themes and coping strategies or stories enabling the reader to escape the gloom and despair that can sometimes be part life.

“It was a distraction for me,” said FOX 4 Young Achiever Teresa Shockley.  “If I was feeling anxious or depressed, I could read a book and it would take my mind off it and specifically these books have a nice message about being positive and living life to the fullest.”

Teresa says reading, along with her music, has been very important in her ongoing recovery from serious mental health challenges that started to plague her after her parents divorced when she was eight.  Anxiety disorder spiraled later into depression to self harm and then to suicidal thoughts.

“I think it empowered me because, I kind of relate to some of the characters in the books,” said Teresa.  “They’re having a hard time and then they get better or they have a change of heart or they become more positive.”

As a longtime Girl Scout, Teresa was determined to earn her Gold Award, the organization’s top achievement.  And she needed a community service project to get it.  Books and how they’ve empowered her – and could empower others -- came to mind.

“It’s called Reading For Recovery,” said Teresa.  “The objective is just to help teenagers who are struggling with various mental health problems and using reading to help them, as a coping mechanism.”

Teresa put together a Reading For Recovery traveling exhibit that she takes to public libraries in the region.  It’s been at the main Kansas City Missouri Public Library downtown recently.  And she established a network of several Little Free Libraries that she stocks with the same kinds of books that have helped her, putting them in places that reach her target audience – young people in crisis.

“It allows people to take charge of some of their own recovery,” said behavioral therapist Kindra Jackel of Lilac Center, a behavioral therapy center in downtown Kansas City.  Teresa has a Little Free Library there and has been working on her own recovery with Jackel.

“She has hand-picked all of these books,” said Jackel about Teresa’s Little Free Library offerings.  “She didn’t just go to the self-help section of Barnes and Noble and grab up a bunch of books.  She has read these books and she has chosen each book to address a particular (mental health) issue.  And I think it means a lot to people when they see that.”

As Teresa has moved forward with Reading For Recovery she’s become a strong and dedicated advocate for the cause of mental health.  Building community awareness is a big part of the goals and objectives of her project.

“A lot of my friends struggle with mental health,” said Teresa, “and so I love to be able to be there for them and help them and educate people as best as I can on mental health.
“I think a big part of recovery for a lot of people is the act of giving back,” says Jackel.  “And as (Teresa) helps other people recover, it helps her grow in her own recovery.”

Powered by books. With well over 100 hours invested in Reading For Recovery, Teresa has earned her Girl Scout Gold Award.  She’ll receive it in a ceremony in April.  Meantime, her sixth Little Free Library is going in at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library.  She also has them at the two locations of The Lilac Center, at Gillis Center, in the counseling office of Pembroke Hill School and at First Call KC, a drug and alcohol prevention and recovery center.  There is a lot more information on Reading For Recovery on Teresa’s website, http://www.readingforrecovery.com/.  Here are some more links important to her project, to the Kansas City Public Library system and to Girl Scouts.

http://www.kclibrary.org/
https://www.facebook.com/gsksmo/posts/1227847300574347
https://vimeo.com/139403706
http://www.girlscouts.org/en/our-program/highest-awards/gold-award.html