Teens work with Born this Way Foundation

Invitation to think, act kindly toward yourself, others 21 days annually


Maya Enista Smith, executive director of the Born This Way Foundation

As a mother of two children, Maya Enista Smith always felt it was important to focus on building a kinder world for future generations. Early on, she noticed the growing stigma surrounding adolescent mental health and wished to spread awareness about the issue. Smith’s desire to make a difference led her to work in youth empowerment, including her current occupation as executive director of a nonprofit organization. Over the last 12 years, programs initiated by Smith, a Lafayette resident, have inspired Miramonte students and high schoolers worldwide to seek mental health support and aid their peers. 

Smith serves as the first executive director of the Born This Way Foundation. The foundation,  co-founded and led by popular singer Lady Gaga, supports the mental health of young adults and works with them to create a kinder world. Smith joined the foundation in August 2012. Prior to this, Smith had over a decade of experience in the civic engagement fields. As executive director, she engages in an array of projects to conduct research, build youth-focused programming, and lead effective campaigns.

“I love being executive director of Born This Way Foundation. I love it because of the people I work with, because of the mission we work towards, and because of the hope that I get from this work every day,” Smith said.

Students can visit the website bornthisway.foundation and join a global campaign pioneered by the foundation. This campaign, named #BeKind21, is an invitation to think and act kindly toward yourself and others for a period of 21 days annually, from September 1 to 21. Individuals are invited to participate and share their experience on social media using the hashtag #BeKind21.  This campaign started at Springhill Elementary School in Lafayette.

Other ways students can become involved include applying to join the foundation’s Advisory Board, where they will play a pivotal role in the planning and execution of programs, campaigns, and projects.

The topics of mental health and wellness have become increasingly important during the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought about a complex array of new factors to the lives of teenagers. Adolescents are facing changes in routine, loss of security, and missed significant life events that all can be causes of heightened stress, anxiety, and depression. In the midst of these changes, outside support from adults is important in recognizing this uncertainty and taking steps to keep teenagers healthy. 

One way to receive support is through the Miramonte Wellness Center. The team works with the Counseling Department to support the mental health of the student community. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day, Monday through Friday. Students can participate in a variety of services provided such as mental health counseling, nursing services, support groups, and referrals to community agencies. Wellness services are free and welcome drop-ins. In addition to in-person support, students can find self-care tips and mental health check-ins online through the Wellness Center Instagram, @miramonte_wellness. 

“To me, mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental health does NOT mean a mental health diagnosis; rather, mental health can refer to one’s overall psychological and emotional wellness. Students can schedule time to do activities they like, find activities to release stress, or can connect with people they enjoy being with as some examples of how to promote their mental health,” Miramonte Wellness Center Coordinator Andi Nashimi said.

The Born This Way Foundation has also teamed up with the National Council for Behavioral Health to bring teen Mental Health First Aid, a program that establishes in-person training that teaches high school students about common mental health challenges and skills they need to support their own and others’ wellness. Currently, Wellness Centers are exploring the idea of implementing this program into Acalanes district schools. Although no plans are finalized, a successful partnership with the Born This Way Foundation in the future is very possible, according to Nashimi. 

“I think that the programs created by the Born This Way Foundation are super fascinating. I love that a famous singer like Lady Gaga has become so involved in destigmatizing mental health and providing resources for teens because I think it validates our feelings and recognizes issues that are often overlooked by adults,” junior Ally Smith said.