FROM HER BASEMENT TO A BIG AUDITORIUM – THE PERSON AND THE STORY BEHIND RAISING UP WARRIORS:

What began in a crowded basement with a group of friends has catapulted into an annual mental health event: hearing the stories of mental health survivors, championing them on and standing in solidarity for a community that is often silenced, misunderstood, and marginalized. Further, Raising Up Warriors now has a popular Etsy Shop and this webpage.

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How did all of this evolve? 

It was a simple choice. On Breanna Ching’s 16th birthday she asked her friends to bring toys instead of gifts for her, that she would deliver to sick kids in hospital. She spent the evening “opening” gifts of dolls, books, and games.  For the next 4 years, this tradition grew. Her community, school, and even strangers from across the province donated toys to this mission. She raised $1,500 and donated 2 000 toys over the course of four years. 

 

In 2015, there was a dramatic shift in Breanna’s life. A once vibrant, active, smart and boisterous woman, she suddenly became apathetic with profound sadness that would not lift. Breanna remembers one day returning to her dorm and collapsing from the weight of her depression. 

It was too much. 

Because of her privilege and access to care — many do not have this luxury — she received care from health professionals and over time reached a state of remission. The experience changed the trajectory of her life. Instead of nursing, she transferred into social work, which she loves and thrives in. 

 

In 2018, Breanna partnered with an ally, Jenny Cooper, and together they formed “Raising Up Warriors”, with the core mission being to raise people up to be warriors in their fight. Life is not meant to be lived alone and these girls embodied community, connection, and compassion as their values. 

 

Flying by the seat of their pants with no leadership or hosting experience, these two young women passionately dedicated five months to plan Breanna’s “21st birthday”.  Hosting an event for the first time is challenging. There are big things: finding and praying for a venue, advertising, and securing the lineup of entertainment.  Then there are small tasks that cannot be neglected: renting mics, buying pens, spray painting centerpieces, deciding on decor, budgeting, and so much more.  Despite their lack of expertise Raising Up Warriors was a massive success with no glitches.  The event focused on hope, healing, and recovery, featuring guest speakers discussing their mental health journey. It also included mental health trivia, a silent auction, spoken word poetry, and live music. Hundreds of people from every walk of life came together under one roof and celebrated the courage and bravery of our speakers. When people come together, engage in dialogue, and learn from one another — real change begins. 

Real change begins

After a standing ovation at the end, Jenny and Breanna began crying as they counted their total: $2,500, that was directly given to community mental health initiatives. Before they left the gymnasium they agreed this was only the beginning. 

 

A similar event took place for Breanna’s 22nd birthday, with thousands being raised again. More  importantly, though, barriers were broken down, the audience gained more compassion, and stigma began to diminish. 

 

Every person involved with Raising Up Warriors has been affected by mental health in some way. THAT is what makes the team different than other mental health campaigns and events. From the first draft in November, to the closing remarks at the event, every step has been taken by someone walking in shoes that understand mental illness. 

Refusing to back down

Since Breanna’s “23rd birthday” and 3rd Raising Up Warriors was cancelled over COVID-19 concerns, Breanna refused to back down. She went back to the drawing board. How can we still make this happen? 

 

She took several steps to bring Raising Up Warriors online. She wanted to reach a larger audience, and unite people together while we are isolated.  She designed mental health prints and started an Etsy shop. This comprehensive website was another way Breanna desired to keep people together, while remaining apart. 

 

Breanna had no idea that giving up birthday gifts — she hasn’t received one since age 15 — would accelerate into massive events and fundraisers, while making an impact on people. One comment Breanna received after the event was, “I understand my daughter now” and in that moment Breanna committed wholeheartedly to this cause. That comment made every hour of work, stress, and busyness worth it. 

To her — it was worth it. 

Raising Up Warriors never would have existed if Breanna hadn’t personally felt the devastation, and ultimate recovery, of severe depression.  She is not thankful for her experience, but she is elated that through her passion and vulnerability, much needed awareness and advocacy is happening. Raising Up Warriors is no longer just an annual event.  With the proceeds from the shop, Raising Up Warriors will be hosting monthly mental wellness events - after the pandemic, interacting through this website, and expanding even further in the future.

Between social work school, working, volunteering, and writing/directing films, she hopes that she can encourage others to keep fighting. 

 

“If I can make it through, so can you.” 

 

Together, we are...RAISING UP WARRIORS!