(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — On Tuesday, Sept. 20, PennWest Edinboro students were greeted by information tables as they approached the Frank G Pogue Student Center.

It was friendly faces all around. They are the faces that aim to be there when a crisis strikes. Some of the information tables were staffed with campus counselors and other resources, and other tables were staffed with representatives from off-campus resources.

The event was the Stories of Strength (SOS) Day. It was an opportunity to for students to get to know the folks at those resources (both on- and off-campus) should they someday need them. And not just for those who need them, but also for students who may need to refer their friends in crisis.

It’s a focus on holistic health, mental-health awareness, education and self-care. The Stories of Strength Day is held each September to recognize World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10). In addition to the information tables, organizers planned to have live music and therapy dogs, and the whole event would be capped off with a memorial walk.

Lin Gabriel is the student support assistant in the PennWest Edinboro Wellness Program, but she wears many other hats. Gabriel said the SOS Day aims to accomplish two goals: To increase awareness of resources, and to give students a chance to meet the people at those resources.

“There’s a big difference between being referred somewhere and actually seeing someone’s face,” Gabriel said. “This event is to let students know they’re not alone. They know we’ve got their backs. It’s a slew of resources.”

Students today face unique struggles — each generation has. Today, students tend to lack coping strategies, Gabriel said, and they lack connectedness, which was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They have a weaker support system, and those protective factors that we had are not there,” Gabriel explained. The campus counselors help build coping strategies for each particular student, and the wellness program is hoping to connect students with the additional resources.

Edinboro recently became PennWest Edinboro, one campus of a three-campus university. The other campuses are PennWest California and PennWest Clarion. Those campuses are combining resources in the hopes of offering students the best of all three campuses.

Jim McGee, assistant vice president for Student Affairs for PennWest University, was visiting from the Clarion Campus.

“The Stories of Strength Day is well established here. All of our campuses do similar things, but we think we can take what they’re doing here and scale it out,” McGee said. “What they’re doing here is established and people really appreciate it.”

After a wet Monday, it was a sunny day on Tuesday. It was a good day to be out on the Edinboro campus, McGee said.

“It’s a great location. The pond is right over there. Students are walking by. It’s a beautiful day. It doesn’t get better than that,” McGee said.

From left, Olivia Steck, Lin Gabriel, and Tae Titus at PennWest Edinboro.

Both Olivia Steck of Bradford and Tae Titus of Titusville are students at Edinboro, and both are peer responders. A peer responder essentially is a volunteer who is trained to help their fellow students through a crisis.

“When I was growing up, I was one of the people who felt like I wasn’t heard. I wanted to be the person they go to to be heard,” Titus said. To be a peer responder, the students have to complete 10 weeks of training for certification. “(The certification) looks great on a resume, and you learn more people skills. You learn to be more empathetic, and more understanding. The skills help with any type of situation. You can use them with anything.”

Steck said she signed up to be a peer responder so that she could be active in the community.

“I have always been active in areas for the disadvantaged,” Steck said. Steck, a psychology major, also works at Harborcreek Youth Services, a behavioral health care agency that provides a wide range of residential and in-home services. Being a peer responder, however, is not a paid job. “It’s just volunteering. There’s no credit. It’s just to help.”

The outdoor activities near the student center will continue until 5:30 p.m. A memorial walk was set to follow at Sox Harrison Stadium.

“We’ll be playing a beautiful playlist of memorial songs. The walk is in memory of people we love who are currently fighting a mental health battle, and it’s for those who have lost that battle,” Gabriel said.