Co-recipients of the Brownell Award, Cape Elizabeth Middle School nurse Jill Young and student Hope Taylor were surprised with an award ceremony on Nov. 13. Young and Taylor were recognized for their grants awards from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation that dealt with mental health issues. From left to right: Elaine Brownell, Jill Young and Hope Taylor. Courtesy photo Liz McEvoy

CAPE ELIZABETH — Jill Young, Cape Elizabeth Middle School nurse, and Hope Taylor, a student, were co-recipients of the Brownell Award, which the two received at a surprise ceremony on Nov. 13.

Chosen by the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation grants committee and education advisers, the Brownell Award celebrates a remarkable grant from the previous year, said Liz McEvoy, executive director of the foundation.

She said that the foundation is a nonprofit that provides grant money for innovative projects that would otherwise not fit in the school budget to staff and sometimes students in the Cape Elizabeth School District.

In the fall of 2018, Young, who was interested in mental health advocacy within the district, applied for a grant, a schoolwide read-along of the book “Finding Perfect” by Elly Swartz, telling the story of a 12-year-old’s struggle with mental health, said Elaine Brownell, a retired Cape Elizabeth High School teacher, for whom the award is named.

Taylor created a student-run mental health advocacy project, Brownell said.

Her classmates painted the bathroom walls of Cape Elizabeth Middle School with inspirational messages, sentiments like “Life is tough. But so are you,” said the Cape Elizabeth School Department’s website.

A sixth grader at the time of applying for the project’s grant in spring of 2019, Taylor impressed everyone at the foundation, said McEvoy.

Hope Taylor (left) and Jill Young (right) were co-recipients of the Brownell Award on Nov. 13 from the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation for their work in mental health advocacy at Cape Elizabeth Middle School. Young also received the Thompson Award from the foundation. Courtesy photo Liz McEvoy

“It just showed amazing leadership and initiative for a student to go through the entire planning process and presentation in order to be awarded a grant,” she said. “She was actually inspired by Jill’s grant to do her own. We just think seeing that sort of student inspiration and innovation is something worth celebrating.”

Young was also the recipient of the Thompson Award, recognizing a member of the Cape  Elizabeth education community who regularly goes above and beyond for students, McEvoy said.

The Thompson Award is named after a 2004 Cape schools graduate, she said.

“It goes to a member of the Cape education community who regularly goes above and beyond for students,” McEvoy said. “We’ve had lots of different winners, classroom teachers, coaches, a bus driver one year, so it’s a really special award that celebrates someone who is there and who kids know is taking care of them and goes all out for them.”

In conjunction with the Thompson family, the foundation wanted to make a push to work on mental health issues within the district, providing funding for grands, she said.

“Jill was someone who put out the call,” McEvoy said. “I think that she really started changing the conversation around mental health. Her whole programming is about no stigma, so it’s OK to talk about mental health, anxiety, and it’s OK to ask for help. That’s a focus we think the schools in general are starting to look at. We’re seeing more grants for that, and it’s something we’re happy to help them focus on.”

In her acceptance speech at the ceremony, Young said that she was looking to make an impact and soon after had the realization that most of the visits to her office were about mental health concerns.

From there, she created a proposal and Cape Elizabeth Middle School mental health programming was made possible with grants from
Thompson Family Mental Health Initiative and The Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation, Young said.

“The vision: to create a school community that recognizes the importance of mental wellness and embraces the opportunity to create a foundation of advocacy, education, and awareness,” she said. “The goals: to empower students, staff, and parents to be proactive and confident in caring for themselves and others. Provide tools and tips for improving mental health. Introduce health resources in or near our school community. Decrease stigma around mental health. The outcome: the school and cape community as a whole become engaged in mental health and wellness through life celebration, education, resources, and ongoing support.”

In normal circumstances, the Thompson and Brownell Awards would be presented to recipients at the back-to-school meeting in late August, but as that couldn’t take place this year, the foundation wanted to do something special, said McEvoy.

Working with Principal Troy Eastman, foundation board members and middle school faculty were able to create a surprise ceremony, she said.

“I think that (the foundation) is just really honored to give these awards to someone who’s worked hard for students, and to see a student move into a leadership role — we think that’s worth celebrating, and we’re excited to see what Jill and Hope bring to us next,” McEvoy said.

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