For students across campus, USC Hillel, a small cottage tucked between campus and the Row, serves various purposes. Sometimes it’s a workspace, other times it’s a place for a home-cooked meal or an escape from the stress of college. Earlier this month, USC Hillel took on another role when it launched a wellness initiative to help students struggling with mental health.
The Bradley Sonnenberg Wellness Initiative funded by Glenn and Andrea Sonnenberg in honor of their late son and from Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles Cutting Edge Grant, will employ a full-time social work professional to take on the role of associate director of health and wellness.
“In this plugged-in, ever-alienating society of ours, I think that there are not a lot of resources for people who may have issues,” Glenn Sonnenberg said. “Maybe not even big issues, but just day-to-day sort of making it through, [like] participating [in] activities with others and having a safe place to chill and maybe having somebody to talk to — it drove us to this wellness initiative.”
American college students show higher rates of diagnosis for poor mental health, particularly for anxiety, depression and panic attacks, according to a study published by the Journal of American College Health last year. USC Hillel already provides resources for students struggling with drug addiction and depression, but this initiative takes that support much further by adding professionalization to an already established wellness program.
Putting student wellness high on the priority list is nothing new for USC Hillel. Past leadership, like former Executive Director Bailey London, emphasized Hillel’s role in addressing mental health on campus through informational workshops and organized activities that allowed students to unplug and take a breather.
The Sonnenbergs additionally stressed the importance of placing the initiative within reach of any student seeking help or someone to talk to, regardless of religious identity.
“The [Engemann Student Health Center] is not able to help everybody,” Andrea Sonnenberg said. “They’re overwhelmed by the demand. People can’t get in; they can’t get in for months, and they only get a certain number of sessions, so that’s part of the reason why the need is so great. There’s just not the supply.”
Dave Cohn, who is starting as this year’s executive director for USC Hillel, hopes to carry on the legacy that past leadership has instituted in making student wellness a high priority. Cohn previously worked for Hillel at UCLA and has spent years with college students at summer camps and university camps.
“Anyone who works on campus [knows] the pressures students face and the varying ways, and sometimes specialized ways, we might need to offer to respond to those pressures and to encourage healthy balance,” Cohn said.
Hillel also plans to continue weekly activities such as hiking, yoga and community sports as a part of its physical wellness program.
Ilana Cohen, a junior studying cognitive science who frequently visits Hillel, said she hopes students will take advantage of the resources available through the initiative.
“In the past, especially recently, there were all these attacks on the Jewish community, and Hillel was a really great space to go to,” Cohen said. “They react and take care of the students immediately, and they bring you in. So this initiative is great because even outside the Jewish community things are always going on and problems are always arising. You always will need someone to talk to.”