Hope Happens Here continues to thrive, at Saint Michael’s and with chapters across U.S.

Alumnus Du Feu '18 presents check at recent soccer game to support organization that helps athletes through mental health struggles; Rossignol '22 describes recent positive work by a student club that Divis '17 and McKenzie '17 launched in 2015, garnering major honors

November 3, 2021
By Faith Morgan '23

Student Life Office staff at Saint Michael’s College encourage students to turn their favorite hobbies or activities into clubs to share interests with peers and to make connections — all it takes is a good idea and a convincing pitch.

One of the most dramatic successful examples of this in recent years was an initiative by Danny Divis ‘17 and Justin McKenzie ’17, two Saint Michael’s College ice hockey players who bonded over their struggles with mental health, agreeing that too much of a stigma exists surrounding mental health in athletes. In September of 2015, Divis and McKenzie talked about the need for club or movement that encouraged athletes to destigmatize mental health struggles and emphasize the importance of taking care of one’s mental health. Their initiative gave birth to the now familiar campus program called Hope Happens Here, which has expanded to chapters across the U.S.

Divis, right, and McKenzie on TV after winning the Hockey Humanitarian Award in 2017.

Hope Happens Here is still an active and integral aspect of the Saint Michael’s community today. Varsity men’s soccer player Max Rossignol ‘22, tri-chair of SMC Hope Happens Here, praised the program for getting the conversation started surrounding mental health. He encouraged students to reach out when they need help, saying the program keeps student athletes informed with mental health resources and advice on what to do when someone needs help.

“Our chapter meets every three weeks,” Rossignol said. “Every [sports] team selects representatives to go to those meetings. Last week, we had [Counseling Center Director] Kathy Butts from Bergeron come talk about action plans for crises. We knew that there needed to be more information about what to do if someone is really struggling.”

In recent exciting news for the organization, on Saturday, October 30, alumnus Daniel Du Feu ’18 presented a check of $10,427 to the Saint Michael’s chapter of HHH at the halftime of a men’s soccer game on Duffy Field, with intentions for the money to go to the Hope Happens Here national non-profit organization.

Du Feu, alongside friends Walker Blanco and Taylor Marks, trained for the Ironman 70.3 Augusta, which took place on September 26, 2021. The trio trained intensively in order to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles during the triathlon. Du Feu and his friends competed in this triathlon in an effort to raise money for Hope Happens Here — an organization that Du Feu says affected him immensely at Saint Michael’s.

due feu

Triathlete Dan Du Feu ’18 at the end of a race.

Du Feu started a fundraiser on GoFundMe in support of the triathlon and HHH. This fundraiser now has 99 donors and has raised more than the $10,000 goal. On his GoFundMe page, Du Feu writes, “I wasn’t comfortable talking about my mental health because no one else around me was talking about theirs and it didn’t feel like something that I should talk about. And that’s why I love Hope Happens Here.”

Humble beginnings

Divis and McKenzie began their club humbly and slowly by tabling outside sports games and lightly advertising the de-stigmatization of mental health. As the year continued, their ideas almost immediately proved to be prospectively successful. The co-founders presented at a nearby high school and with the University of Vermont Student Athlete Advisory Committee. They went on to hold events at home games for Saint Mike’s sports that raised awareness for mental health in athletes. They even produced a Pie-A-Purple Knight fundraiser to raise funds for their new and booming program; this fundraiser also advertised the organization to students on campus.

Divis and McKenzie were so successful in cultivating their program that now, more than two dozen college and high school chapters of Hope Happens Here exist across the East Coast and as far down as North Carolina, sharing the same goals and mission as the Alpha chapter at Saint Michael’s College. They work directly with their athletic departments and their schools’ counseling services to ensure that all athletes are performing to their best ability on the field, in the classroom, and at home.

By connecting students with counseling services at their schools and by having athletic departments work closely with counseling services, these chapters are making great efforts to ensure that all students can receive the help and the care they need. HHH chapters also host awareness games, guest speakers, produce t-shirts, speak at conferences, and much more, in order to provide safe and healthy spaces for student athletes to feel comfortable discussing their hardships, struggles, or emotions.

The program’s expansion into a national non-profit organization attests to the success of those early efforts by Divis and McKenzie, who together won the 22nd annual hockey humanitarian award in 2017 and they were the first ever co-recipients of the award. This award recognizes hockey players who make significant impacts on their team and their community at large through leadership.

Not only were Divis and McKenzie were the first Purple Knights to win this award, but also two out of four total of the non-Division 1 award recipients. In 2017, the duo also appeared live on ESPN during the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four to present HHH and discuss its mission, their goals, and the stigmas surrounding mental health. They also threw the first pitch for a Boston Red Sox game in the summer of 2017. Additionally, they worked with college athletic communications professionals during the 2018 Eastern Athletic Communications Association workshop in Burlington. The exposure and networking led to HHH becoming the national organization that it is today..

Rossignol joined HHH during his first year at Saint Michael’s, when he joined the soccer team but was not getting much time on the field. The stress around not getting to play much got to him, Rossignol says. This is what encouraged him to lean into a leadership role as part of HHH, where he knew he could really make a difference.

Along with other campus chapter leaders of Hope Happens Here, Max Rossignol ’22 is in his white St. Mike’s soccer uniform, third from left, during the recent check presentation at halftime of a game by Dan Du Feu ’18 to support HHH.

“What Hope Happens Here has helped me do is realize that my impact in the athletic community is far greater in programs like this than it is on the field,” said Rossignol. Through taking part in HHH, Rossignol was able to gain support through resources offered by HHH and he became passionate about advocating for student athletes’ mental health. “I’ve definitely had my fair share of anxiety and stress on the field… [but with] the resources that Hope Happens Here had, I was able to talk to people to help me through things and I hope I can help other people through things,” said Rossignol.

HHH continues to make the Saint Michael’s community stronger by offering support to those in need. Due to the awareness efforts of HHH, student athletes are more likely to reach out to their teammates and check in on how they are really doing. “Something that Hope Happens Here has done for me is, it’s let me know that [the mental health] side of things needs to be talked about and touched upon. So something I’ve done this year is to check in with people,” said Rossignol.

The supportive energy encouraged by HHH is contagious, and many student athletes have built strong communities in their teams where they can go to each other to talk about anything. “What the program teaches is that they can be spokespeople, not only for their own mental health, but also realizing that [mental health is] a pivotal part of athletics,” said Rossignol.

On the HHH Instagram page, athletes share tips for staying motivated on “Motivational Mondays.” Saint Michael’s teams will also do “team takeovers” on the page, where they post on about their team and practices during a normal day as a student athlete. On Wednesdays, the page shares wacky photos of athletes while playing their sport. This platform is a crucial aspect of cultivating community and trust between students, HHH members said. Since so many students are sharing their stories, giving tips, and being vulnerable enough to share personal stories, others feel inspired and compelled to do so too.

A recent example demonstrates how “Motivational Monday” posts can inspire. This past Monday, Casey Reeder ‘22 of the women’s cross country team, shared that she stays motivated by getting outside, keeping her planner updated, and making time to hang out with friends. Last Monday, Emma Jane Tagliaferro ’23 of the swim and dive team, shared that she stays motivated by getting coffee with friends, making checklists, and enjoying the fall weather while it’s still here.

To learn more about Hope Happens Here, go to https://www.smcathletics.com/information/hhh/index or contact any of the tri-chairs: Brandon Mitchell, bmitchell3@mail.smcvt.edu, Jillian Perry, jperry2@mail.smcvt.edu, or Max Rossignol, mrossignol@mail.smcvt.edu.

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