Dam Worth It celebrates five years, speaks toward the growth of mental health awareness

Pictured+from+left+to+right%2C+Callan+Jackman%2C+Sierra+Bishop%2C+Emily+Nagel%2C+Caleb+Etter%2C+Jennifer+Ruan%2C+Christian+Porter+Lubbers%2C+Sarah+Connolly%2C+Kristina+Peterson+and+Benny+the+Beaver.+These+members+of+the+Dam+Worth+It+team+pose+with+uplifting+signs+at+the+Jan.+20+OSU+Men%E2%80%99s+Basketball+game+vs.+the+University+of+Washington+Huskies+in+Gill+Coliseum.

Courtesy of Dam Worth It

Pictured from left to right, Callan Jackman, Sierra Bishop, Emily Nagel, Caleb Etter, Jennifer Ruan, Christian Porter Lubbers, Sarah Connolly, Kristina Peterson and Benny the Beaver. These members of the Dam Worth It team pose with uplifting signs at the Jan. 20 OSU Men’s Basketball game vs. the University of Washington Huskies in Gill Coliseum.

When Dam Worth It was first founded back in 2017, co-founders Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten had no idea of the impact it would have on the Oregon State community five years later.

Since the creation of the program, DWI has allowed students to feel safer and more welcomed during their time with OSU, creating an outlet for some students who felt they needed an extra shoulder to lean on.

According to it’s website, DWI is a mental health campaign whose mission is “to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities across the country through the power of sport, storytelling and creation.”

The story behind the creation of DWI is a sad one, but it plays an integral role in what the purpose of the organization is and the values it aims to uphold.

“When we started DWI back in 2017, it truly was a response to trauma and loss,” Ricci, a former OSU gymnast said. “It was a response to Nathan and I both losing teammates to suicide and needing to find a way to cope with our own mental health struggles. The initial vision of DWI was to be an outlet and a means of trying to end the stigma around mental health, and it is awesome that it has stayed true to this mission but has just expanded to try and be something so much more.”

Along with the mission to end the stigma surrounding mental health, Ricci and Braaten have bigger intentions in mind for the program, looking to expand outside of OSU.

“Our biggest goal is to launch more DWI branches at [college] campuses across the country,” Ricci said.

Already being institutionalized within four branches across the country outside of OSU, University of Kentucky, Scappoose High School, Cal Poly Humboldt and San Jose State University, DWI has already made progress.

According to Ricci and Braaten, creating this program and expanding it is a lot of responsibility for them as co-founders, but they acknowledge that although they are the founders, they are not health workers by any means.

“We are not mental health professionals, and we will never claim to be, but we started DWI to encourage people to have conversations about mental health and to encourage vulnerability and genuine connections,” said Braaten, a former OSU men’s soccer player.

Since its expansion, DWI has invited members of the OSU community to participate in its events.

Riley Lecoq, a second-year kinesiology major and reporter for The Daily Barometer, has been a member of DWI since her freshman year, but has known about it before she became a student at OSU.

“I heard about DWI at one of their first DWI gymnastics meets I attended in high school,” Lecoq said. “I had been following their social media and when I came to Oregon State as a freshman and saw they were taking applications for members of the OSU branch in the spring, [so] I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.”

Oregon State senior and Media Marketing Executive Jennifer Ruan said she has also been part of DWI for some time. She said it has changed her outlook on the conversations that should be happening regarding mental health and the overall well-being of a person.

“Mental health, and overall healthcare, should be getting more attention in our society,” Ruan said. “If anything, DWI has made me more passionate about making a difference and opening up the conversation about mental health.”

Like many other aspects of society, the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on how DWI was able to operate and what services it was able to offer.

“The pandemic has affected a lot of our growth as we mainly spread mental health awareness through athletics and other events usually,” Ruan said.

Once statewide pandemic restrictions started to loosen up, the organization was able to put together events and spread awareness on mental health.

According to the DWI website, one example of these events is the “Dam Worth It Games,” which are Oregon State sporting events designated to help raise awareness around mental health and DWI. It is a highlight for many people involved in the organization.

“I love speaking with people at games, whether they share their story or just write why they are worth it,” Lecoq said.

With DWI turning 5 years old, the founders had the chance to reflect on what they created, as well as how it has grown. Braaten said DWI has grown as a community space as well.

“I believe that our commitment to this mission has resonated with people and has made a true impact,” Braaten said. “However, I think that the most important aspect of DWI that has made it successful is the people involved with the non-profit and the branches across the country. What DWI does is provide support, guidance and a foundation for students and student-athletes to start their own peer-led mental health campaigns.”

Of course, DWI was built with the idea of being a safe space for people to be open and vulnerable with one another, and Braaten said it is these connections that make DWI what it is today.

“I believe that we provide the platform and the space, but it is the people who create the community and create the impact,” Braaten said. “Without the passion and dedication of everyone who has been a part of this non-profit, we wouldn’t be successful. At the end of the day, DWI is all about people and community.”

In terms of what is next for DWI, Braaten said there is more to come from the organization.

“Taylor and I are dreamers and because of that we are always looking ahead to the future and determining how we can continue to grow and expand our impact,” Braaten said. “With that being said, there are a ton of things coming up in the future that we are excited about. There are a few things we can’t announce publicly yet, but we have a few really exciting partnerships that are in the works, and we are also on track to be in eight universities by the end of 2022, so lots to do!”