Did you know that Florida Blue is Florida’s largest health-focused philanthropic organization? They are consistently working and investing toward a better state of health and the inaugural symposium they hosted on September 22, 2022 was a prime example of their thoughtfulness and commitment to their values.
On September 22, Florida Blue and the Vinik Sports Group hosted a symposium for high school students called “Strike the Stigma” to provide solutions that can be utilized to achieve positive, sustainable results for the overall mental well-being of the Tampa Bay community. Hosted by Amalie Arena and developed specifically with the help of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the day leveraged the sport of hockey to provide education and awareness around mental well-being and to help break the stigma. For many of the students, it had been THREE years since they’d been on a field trip. While initially they were excited to skip the classroom and head to the Arena, it was evident how much this symposium was needed as students were actively engaged during the four-hour event. Great job to Florida Blue for going above and beyond and for committing their time and funding to a great day and to the Vinik Sports Group for hosting– we’re excited this is a multi-year initiative!
Strike the Stigma included over 200 high school students from across Tampa Bay and transportation was made easy thanks to sponsors and long-standing local partnerships. The symposium included a panel with stories from decorated athletes, breakouts with interactive activities, and conversation. Additional resources were provided by community partners including Tampa Bay Thrives, Directions for Living, the Cameron K Gallagher Foundation, New Directions Behavioral Health, Mental Health Matters, Mental Health First Aid, Positive Coaching Alliance, Tampa Housing Authority, and other outstanding individuals that volunteered their time and expertise.
After breakfast, students listened in on the panel discussion led by Florida Blue’s Tina James, Sr. Corporate Social Responsibility Integrator. Tina James assembled an outstanding group of individuals, drawing from Florida Blue’s high-quality and active philanthropic efforts over the years, its reputation as a committed health partner, and the strong relationships she has built during her time there. Panelists that donated their time were Derrick Brooks (Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend, Hall of Famer, and current Tampa Bay Lightning Vice President and Vinik Sports Group division leader), Brooke Bennett (three-time Olympic champion swimmer and now Clearwater for Youth’s Development Manager), Meghan Sheehan (USF softball student-athlete), and Dr. Nick Dewan (Florida Blue Vice President of Behavioral Health). Each of the panelists opened up to the students and vulnerably shared their experiences with mental struggles and stress while pursuing their goals. Those on stage connected with each other and the students and noted why events like this are beneficial and what resources they found that best suited their own needs. The panel discussion left so many wanting more – in a good way! Each panelist could have been an individual keynote speaker.
Next, smaller groups were formed for breakout sessions; it was evident the students were impressed with being in the Chase Club, yet they also seemed to really thrive in the interactive activities that encouraged them to mingle with students from other schools. One of the breakout sessions was titled “Are you in your Feelings?” where the presenter spoke of social media use and students brainstormed and worked together in thinking of other words for common emotions. Having a richer vocabulary has been proven in helping people identify better with how they’re feeling and understand what actions they can take to better affect themselves and even others. Besides happy and sad, high schoolers came up with examples of extended vocabulary such as energized and festive, stunned and uneasy. They also considered the differences between feeling mellow and fulfilled versus alienated and apathetic – amongst other examples. The breakouts were very effective and meaningful for the students to connect and then converse in deeper conversations.
Meanwhile, other breakouts were happening on the other side of the Chase Club. Another breakout was led by community supporters that believe in Florida Blue and its mission of helping people and communities achieve better health. This room was set up more like speed dating which facilitated students to quickly interact with multiple others and have conversations face-to-face on given topics. This was another good use of time and helped students become more comfortable speaking up on topics that are often shied away from in daily situations.
After lunch, Thunderbug appeared on a bicycle which brought delight and laughter to everyone’s faces! Although the day felt relatively positive, the fun of the Lightning’s mascot brought a smile to faces as heavy topics were introduced.
The final part of the afternoon was held in Firestick Grill and focused on “Conversations that Matter.” The speaker’s personality was a great match for the students. He opened up to the students about his own struggle with mental well-being and guided them to discuss new and additional topics with their table mates who this time were students from their own school. Students were genuine and reflective in their answers and seemed to look relaxed and refreshed as space was provided for them to think and share and develop trusted relationships with each other. An outcome was for students to feel courageous in speaking up and taking action to improve their mental well-being.
This inaugural symposium, developed by Florida Blue and hosted by the Tampa Bay Lightning served to advance health outcomes and act as a driving force for change and innovation in health care by tackling stigmas and being proactive in the community. We know that youth were significantly negatively impacted by COVID and that they experience many other internal and external stressors on a daily basis. It was uplifting to see Florida Blue and the Lightning team up along with many other community partners to take action to improve student lives, advance their health and wellness, and how they care and can be a resource. These organizations let students know that Tampa Bay takes action to support individuals and healthy communities.
Strike the Stigma was another way that Florida Blue and the Florida Blue Foundation shows why and how it is Florida’s largest health-focused philanthropic organization – always working and investing in advancing toward a better state of health. We applaud their philanthropic effort, courage in creating an event, and thoughtfulness in bringing together community partners to provide for high school students in the realm of mental well-being.