Maddy Whitethorn grew up on the little island of Petersburg, Alaska and spent her summers commercial fishing on the ocean. A tight-knit community of 3,000 Alaskans always surrounded her. She loved her beautiful bubble — but she wanted to pursue her education.
Boise felt like home to Maddy when she stepped foot on campus. She felt like she belonged in a place that had a variety of outdoor activities that reminded her of adventures in Alaska. When she decided to head to Boise State to continue her education, she was nervous about having to build a new community from scratch.
“I felt like in my first year of college I had a really hard time finding community. So then my sophomore and junior year I knew that I wanted to get more involved on campus and get that community back. I never really had to work for it before since it was always kind of a given in a small town.”
Although she didn’t have a specific path in mind, Maddy knew she wanted to pursue a career related to health. That’s when she found an avenue that would allow her to meet people and pursue her passion for health — being a peer educator with BroncoFit.
She applied for the position and was thrilled to get the job. It didn’t take her long to realize that being a peer educator didn’t even feel like work to her. Her heart enjoys educating students about health that much. The position allows her to practice “essential life skills” such as teaching, planning, budgeting, communicating and public speaking.
“As Peer Health Educators we choose whatever realm of public health we’re interested in and create an event to support students focused on that. We plan student wellness events such as therapy dogs, wellness bars, games and activities with learning objectives.”
Maddy was grateful to be involved in the Here For You Fest, one of the biggest events to recognize Suicide Prevention Week on campus. Over 500 students gathered on the Quad to learn about suicide prevention resources and mental health while having snacks and refreshments, petting dogs and challenging friends in a blow-up obstacle course. It makes Maddy happy to “See students come and have some stress relief and know that people are here to support them.”
Forming healthy relationships
Peer health educators are on a team with subcommittees: alcohol and drugs, physical health and nutrition, mental health and sexual health and healthy relationships.
Maddy is passionate about teaching others about sexual health and healthy relationships. Whether she’s teaching someone about sexual health at the condom cart or handing out self-care bags, hearing feedback from students gives her the confidence that she’s making a difference by educating her peers about something that will have a life-long benefit to them.
Since Maddy teaches others about the importance of healthy relationships, she knows that people play a big role in helping her feel grounded. When life feels overwhelming, Maddy loves talking to her grandma on the phone. Maddy’s grandmother has been a role model and mentor in her life who she knows she can count on and share life’s difficulties with.
Now in her fourth year, Maddy has her hands full with being an honors college and nursing school student, but being a part of BroncoFit has allowed her to discover all the support available to her such as health services, counseling services and mental health resources.
Maddy’s positive coworkers and supportive supervisors in BroncoFit make it a point to check in with each other and make sure no one is feeling overloaded. The flexibility and encouragement of the job make Maddy feel valued and cared for on an employee, student and individual level.
A lesson Maddy has learned is that it’s ok to ask for help. The independent individual doesn’t like asking for help as if it’s a weakness, when really, being able to ask for help is a big strength because it takes humility.
“Usually, asking for help brings you great answers and there’s a lot of support available. It’s not just you against the world.”
Before entering her first year of college, Maddy had been through the ringer with family strife, a big move and Covid-19. “It felt like there were a lot of things that came crashing down all at once.” She found herself in a low place that seemed burdensome to get out of.
“I didn’t quite know who I was or how I was going to find myself, which I feel like is pretty expected for college age students,” she said, “but over time, just getting involved and finding community, coming out of covid, being able to socialize more and being able to get access to the resources I needed my mental health was able to begin to thrive.”
Finding her community
Starting college at the height of Covid-19 caused Maddy to be isolated from community. After a long year of putting life on pause, she began socializing again and found groups of positive people that impacted her well-being. Communities sprouted up in her life once she got involved on campus by being a peer mentor at the honors college and a peer educator with BroncoFit.
“I would advise incoming students to take advantage of the opportunities they’re given because I do think that helps bring community into people’s lives which I think is really important when you’re in college.” she said, “But also not being afraid to say “no” to some opportunities or social events because if you spend all your time socializing and looking outward then you’re not taking care of what’s inside of you. I think it’s important to find your own balance in what opportunities you choose to take advantage of and what you choose to turn down.”
Now that her mental health is on the incline, Maddy reminds herself that she needs to take breaks to check in with different aspects of her wellness so she can thrive, not just survive.
She reminds herself that balance is necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
She reminds herself of her passion to be a nurse and that the end goal will be worth pushing forward.
She reminds herself to not take every little upset in her life so seriously since it’s a temporary season that many other people have walked through.
“When you come out of some sort of struggle whether it be big or small, I think you realize more often than not that no matter how hard that time was, you can always pull a lesson from that.”