Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and answer the question:
What brings you joy?
After the year we’ve all had, this might be a tough question to answer – or at least one that you haven’t given as much attention as you might like. It’s been a year filled with anxiety and isolation, unrest and uncertainty. Though no one has escaped the effects of these turbulent times, they have been felt – perhaps most deeply – by our young people.
This fact was recently recognized by the Mason County 4-H Federation, a group of teen leaders who sought to help with an insightful new initiative, Joy Project 2021. The Joy Project aims to recognize and give voice to the struggles that teens have faced during the pandemic, as well as offering examples of joy that were found in spite these struggles.
Below, you can find the unedited and unfiltered writings, drawings, and other creations (published with permission) that these teens shared as a part of this project. These initial conceptions were used to create social media posts and encouraging greeting cards designed to lift people’s spirits and help others find joy.
Weekly social media posts will be shared on the Extension unit Facebook page, Mason 4-H Facebook private group, and Mason 4-H Instagram. The teens are distributing the greeting cards to youth throughout Central Illinois.
This project helps bring to light the importance of positive mental health, particularly in our teens. You can find additional mental health resources below.
- What is Mental Health? - mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health
- CDC: Mental Health - cdc.gov/mentalhealth
- NIH: Help For Mental Illness - nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml
- Mental Health Resources for Adolescents & Young Adults - adolescenthealth.org/Resources/Clinical-Care-Resources/Mental-Health/Mental-Health-Resources-For-Adolesc
Covid has changed the lives of everyone. It has changed my life a lot, in a way I didn't know it could. My life with my favorite horse Storm is everything to me. It’s what I want to do when I'm older…work with horses in some way.
This past year didn't allow us 4-Hers to have the normal fair we usually do, but that's what was for the best for everyone. I had a pretty normal summer, (other than getting used to a mask.) There was no fair and no shooting sports. Without the fair, I had a lot of time to do other things. Mainly I worked with Storm on free-reining, (which is riding with just a rope around the neck of the horse.)
I still had Federation meetings on Zoom and enjoyed them and the little bit of time of seeing my 4-H friends.
When the new school year was coming near, I didn't have a choice of going back to my public school or staying. My mother has health problems so I had to do online school. At first it was ok, then I fell behind, I couldn't get any help for my online teacher. I became very stressed and overwhelmed by everything that was going on in my personal life and school life. I missed seeing my friends, I missed my teachers. I became depressed and locked myself away and just listened to music.
The only happiness I had was Storm. I've had him since he was born. He became my rock, my reason to keep fighting. I love him more than anyone could ever imagine and I know he trusts me and in his own way he loves me too. If it wasn't for him I really don't know where I would be. My Joy Project submission included a video and some pictures of me and him throughout the year of 2020 and a bit of 2021.
One of the songs that I connected with is "Brandon Beal - Golden ft. Lukas Graham." This song helped a lot, I don't understand the way music helps but when I listen to music I try my best not to listen to sad songs. I like music that makes me feel powerful, strong, confident, and that makes me feel good!
I hope this finds you in good health, mentally and physically!! If it doesn't you need to know that we are in this together, we will get through this! Find your own "rock," whether it be a hobby, a show, an animal friend, anything that you are happy around, just know that you can do this no matter what!!
I feel the Coronavirus has affected everyone in many different ways. For me, it was missing my friends and family. Especially during the holidays. One thing I enjoy doing during this time is photography. I love taking pictures of new things and experimenting with different pictures as well. I love seeing how they turn out. It takes my mind off negative things going on during these difficult times.
Covid-19 has affected my family and I in many different ways. I think many could agree that Covid-19 has changed their life. There are many ups and downs that follow with Covid.
To me Covid-19 has affected me drastically. For example, my great grandmother is 96 years old and due to Covid-19 I haven’t been able to see her like I normally would. When the weather was good I was able to visit her outside with precautions but during the winter our visits were limited even more. Usually, my family spends holidays with grandparents, aunts, uncles & cousins, however that was affected too.
Another way Covid-19 has affected me is with sports. I play softball and basketball in a normal year. However, this year IESA didn’t allow any indoor sports, so basketball was a no go for both boys & girls and our softball season started late & was very limited. I’m thankful that we did get to play softball, but it would have been fun to participate in the state games this year. I find it sad that kids don’t have sports to play.
Sports are an extra benefit but they push some kids to do better in school. Sports even make some more accountable and responsible. Without sports, kids get bored and start watching more television, gaming and doing activities that may get them in trouble.
Every year, I look forward to our county and state 4-H shows. Unfortunately, in 2020 an in-person show was replaced with a virtual show for our county fair and due to the late timing of the state show, I wasn’t able to participate in it. I did participate in the virtual county show but it just wasn’t like our normal fair.
There’s nothing like working hard with your project and then getting to the fair to show off your hard work. I also look forward to the interaction with others at the fair. I’ve made several friends through our county & state fair that I missed seeing this year.
Luckily, I live in the country so I have an advantage of being able to go outside. I’ve been able to ride horses, go on bike rides, practice softball and basketball, and spend time with my family. To relax and pass time I enjoy listening to music. Just going outside on a nice day helps raise your spirits when you feel like there is nothing to do.
I’m thankful that our school is in session because this allows me to see my friends and have a somewhat normal life. My travel softball team has been practicing & playing using precautions, so I’m thankful for that too.
Recently, a local basketball team has formed & we have been able to play a little basketball again following Covid precautions. No I don’t like playing with a mask on but I will do what it takes so we can play!
Even though I feel Covid has changed my life drastically, there are many things that I’m able to take joy in such as playing some sports, going to school, seeing friends, listening to music, spending time outside & spending more quality time with my family. Yes, things aren't ideal right now but I feel we must stay positive, stick together & lean on each other for support.
One day we'll look back & tell stories about these times & think boy, we made it! Remember the next time you feel overwhelmed “This Too Shall Pass” and better days are ahead!
Through all of the rough times this past year it has been really hard for me to find joy. Covid had ruined a lot of things for me and everyone around; from every fun activity I enjoy doing getting cancelled, to not being able to see some of the people that matter most to me.
While all of this was going on, I found out ways to help myself find joy. It was just the simple things, like sitting down and doing puzzles with all of my family members. I find that looking through old photos also brings me joy.
My favorite quote that helped me want to find joy during the hard days was, “So remember, no matter what you’re going through, tough times don’t last, tough people do.” After I started finding faith and joy, good things started happening in my life once again. So no matter what is going on in your life just remember there’s always a “light that leads to the end of the tunnel.”
Some of the fun things that started happening for me again were softball tournaments, basketball games, a cattle show here and there, and more time with my family. I am so grateful to have found joy in the world after going through rough times.
COVID-19 has taken a lot from me and all the seniors across the world. In my Joy Project piece I included many photos of me playing and directing during band, pictures taken before homecoming and prom, FFA events, shooting sports events, and theater events. All things that I will not get to do again because of the pandemic.
It’s not all bad though. Through quarantine I’ve found myself having more time for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and started to find new things I enjoy doing. I watched my community grow and adapt to new changes. My senior year wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be but it taught me a lot.
You Are Not Alone
COVID has been very hard. This has affected everyone in some form or another. Having to stay in place can be very lonely and can make you feel depressed and isolated. COVID has prevented me from celebrating FFA accomplishments, going to school dances, hanging with my friends and relatives, and spending valuable time with my Dad who lives in a different State. It has prevented me from playing Basketball, participating in my fishing and shooting sports, even celebrating my BIG 16th birthday.
Life, in general, has completely changed as we know it. Through all this, I have learned and reminded myself that we are not alone in this. I have a great support system in my parents, Aunts and Uncles, and cousins, even teachers and classmates. My family is always there to talk and lend an ear when I need them and teachers that will allow us to have a few minutes at the end of online classes to communicate and catch up with classmates.
I live in the country, so shooting hoops and practicing fishing techniques help keep my mind clear of negative and sad thoughts.
My parents have taught me about people over generations that have dealt with worse or similar things and though it seems never ending, this too will pass. All of this has taught me to be grateful for the simple things.
Always remember, you are never alone, you just have to reach out.
During this pandemic I have felt overwhelmed, trapped, and very lonely. In this drawing of a mask I included bars on it to represent how I feel wearing a mask everywhere I have to go now. The tears coming down her face represent how I have felt during all of this. Sometimes I feel like bursting into tears, but then try to focus on the positive and how thankful I am for my friends and family.
As the pandemic has continued, it has got harder for people to stay positive and okay with this situation. Most people don't like change, and there has been so much of it. I am hoping in twenty years I can look back and be reminded that even when times are rough we can persevere.
Some ideas I encourage you to try that help keep my days happy are painting a picture for a family member, sitting outside and watching nature, calling a friend, or baking cookies with your mom or dad. Some things that have really brought me joy are my friends and family, my Mason County 4-H Federation group and being able to go to school, even if we have to wear a mask.
For more information
For anyone wishing to send a note of joy to others, the greeting cards created are available at University of Illinois Extension – Mason County office, 127 S. High St., Suite 1 Havana, IL 62644.