Jill Patton//The Crown
Jill Patton//The Crown

“I love my jokes!”

“I love my eyes!”

“I love my sense of fashion!”

On Valentine’s Day, most people express their love for friends, family and significant others. However, students who attended the Love Your Selfie event on Feb. 11 and 12 were encouraged to show some love for themselves. The above comments were just some of the messages written the paper hearts that covered the table at the event.

Love Your Selfie marked the debut of HOPE, a new peer educating program connected to the King’s College Counseling Center. HOPE, which is an acronym for Helping Our Peers Excel, consists of six students, known as peer educators, who work under the guidance of counselors Brian Cook and Tina Arendash to raise awareness about the emotional and social struggles that many students face.

The group aspires to go beyond the walls of the Counseling Center and reach out to the student community. Each month, HOPE will address a new wellness topic by holding interactive events and hosting informational speakers.

February’s theme focused on body image, self-esteem and eating disorders. At the Love Your Selfie event, students were invited to write what they loved most about themselves on paper hearts and take photos for HOPE’s Twitter and Instagram pages (be sure to check them out at KingsPA_HOPE). Overall, Love your selfie received a positive response from students.

Peer educator Heather Danishanko, a junior English/Secondary Education major commented, “Everybody was willing to stop and fill out a heart. Everybody really loved what they were doing.”

On Feb. 23, the group also held a special session about eating disorders, featuring guest speaker Jennifer Misunas Buckwash.

Cook said the HOPE peer educators design the events to be engaging and original.

“They’re not going to lecture,” Cook pointed out. “There may be a small component where they have to deliver some information, but they’re going to try to be a lot more interactive, energetic, [and] exciting about these types of topics, because they’re heavy topics.”

Cook said that peer educators are able to inform students about serious issues in creative ways while expressing how important it is to address them.

“The peer educators have a lot of creative ways to get the information out there, but they can also get the point across that if these [emotional issues] are going on, they’re not something to just let go,” Cook said. “They’re something to address and work through.”

The peer educators underwent an extensive application and interview process in order to attain their positions. At the events, they are available to answer questions, provide information and offer support. Cook and Arendash described them as energetic, outgoing, honest and motivating.

Danishanko decided to become a peer educator because helping others relates to her role as an RA.

“I know a lot of people who have gone through certain emotional issues and not been able to find help, or not been able to find the right resources,” she explained. “HOPE is a group designed to get people to those right resources and to educate people, which is something I’m passionate about myself.”

Jill Patton//The Crown
Jill Patton//The Crown

Although the “Love Your Selfie” event marked HOPE’s debut on campus, the Counseling Center has been planning the program for about two and a half years. Large state schools often have significant peer support groups, so the Counseling Center staff decided to develop a group that suited the King’s College community. The idea changed and evolved until HOPE was born.

Peer education programs have many positive advantages. For students who have questions or concerns, attending HOPE events and interacting with peer educators can be a great first step to addressing a personal problem.

“It may be just more comfortable,” Arendash said. “If you are talking to somebody who you feel you are on the same level with, it may be easier to ask questions or to just hear information.”

As students themselves, peer educators can also easily relate to students. Although staff members and other adults on campus can assist students and offer support, peer educators might deliver the same message through a different approach.

In addition, HOPE helps uphold King’s College’s promise to teach students not only how to make a living, but how to live. Peer educators want to help students attain personal wellness and success.

Katelyn Buyarski, peer educator and sophomore PA major said programs like HOPE help improve students’ college experiences.

“We’re at college, and you’re trying to focus on bettering yourself and making yourself ready for the “real world” and a job and stuff like that, and if you’re too worried about all the things going on internally, you’re not going to focus in the classroom,” Buyarski said. “So I felt like it was a very important thing to have at a college.”

If a student needs further help, peer educators might suggest where the student should go receive more assistance. HOPE acts like a link, connected students to the Counseling Center, or other campus resources such as the Office of Academic Skills.

The HOPE logo, which features an arrow, functions as an inspiring symbol of resilience for students who seeking help.

“The idea that the arrow has to be brought back before it travels a distance forward is a good model that there will be hiccups and things and struggles along the way,” Cook said, “but if you put your mind to it, and you point yourself in that direction, it’s definitely possible to get there.”

HOPE will continue to present new monthly topics. March will focus on stress and anxiety relief while April and the beginning of May will address relationship issues such as dating violence, stalking and sexual assault.

In the future, they also look forward to providing floor programs in residence halls and doing educational presentations for classes.

If students want to reach out to peer educators, they can attend HOPE events and speaker sessions. They can also contact the group at hopepeereducators@kings.edu with questions.