Grant Update: BAYA Uses Two Unique CFSI Grant Programs to Battle Mental Health Issues in Girls

Some might call it a mother’s intuition. But for BAYA founder Tanisha “Tish” Frederick, the red flags in her daughter were clear.

Tish had noticed changes in her daughter Jasmine’s behavior. While she knew middle school was a difficult age for some children to adjust emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally, Tish had a sense that her daughter was struggling to cope with her surroundings.

“We found out that she was being bullied relentlessly, which then led to her becoming a self-harmer,” Tish says. “So we immediately got her into a local treatment center and found some success there. But when we were out, there was no consistent program out there to do what we needed to do for my daughter.”

Despite Tish’s best efforts, she was unsuccessful in finding an outlet for her preteen daughter.

“I remember just talking with her, and I couldn’t understand why she was so down on herself. I kept telling her ‘You are beautiful as you are,’” Tish says. “And that line just kind of stuck with me”

With some inspiration from her daughter’s struggles, and seven other middle school-aged girls in tow, Tish Fredrick decided to create an outlet of promoting positive self-esteem in young girls and give them a safe space to discuss topics they deal with on a daily basis. And the organization’s name was fitting:

BAYA – Beautiful As You Are

Now, with the help of local organizations like the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, Tish could use her new nonprofit to reach girls in need all over Kentuckiana.

Understanding Mental Health in Southern Indiana

Like everywhere else in the world, Southern Indiana has its own mental health issues.

According to the Indiana Department of Health, 28-percent of Indiana adolescents aged 12-17 have a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral problem. More troubling, 10-percent of Indiana high school students attempted suicide one or more times during the last 12 months.

Thanks to a partnership between Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Indiana University Southeast’s Applied Research & Education Center, the 2021 Priorities for Progress Assets and Aspirations in Southern Indiana was created to take a closer look at issues surrounding our local communities.

Unfortunately, the report highlighted more sobering statistics. Two-thirds of those who responded to the questionnaire rated mental health support for children as “poor” or “very poor” in Clark and Floyd counties. In fact, more than 55-percent of all respondents to the report tabbed mental illness as the greatest social concern in the community.

“People always ask me if I read books or saw something to inspire me to open something like BAYA,” Tish says. “No, I didn’t see any of that – I started it for my baby. All I saw was me trying to save Jazz. I just wanted her to be ok.  But then more and more parents would come up to me, and they would say they need something like this for their daughter. I was just helping to fill a void in our community.”

BAYA, pronounced BAY-uh, officially got its start thanks to early support from the Cabbage Patch Settlement House in 2014. After finding success in after-school programs throughout Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, BAYA would become so sought after that Tish was able to open the organization’s first physical learning center in Clarksville, IN in 2020.

BAYA’s Decompression Room

Located just next to Green Tree Mall, the BAYA Center offers empowerment workshops, art activities, and other programs and projects. The building resembles a spa for school-aged girls, including therapeutic salt lamps and a decompression room – where no technology or outside conversations are allowed. There is also space for the girls to create a vision board, meditate, and participate in self-defense and cyber security classes.

The curriculum focuses on coping techniques and self-love for both the bullies and the bullied. It provides the students with consistent lessons that are repetitive and tangible. In the end, Tish always gives the girls something to take away to better connect the lessons to everyday stresses they face away from the Center.

But no sooner did BAYA open their doors did the COVID-19 pandemic strike, forcing her to shut down the newly opened building and go virtual. Not only was Tish trying to help manage girls’ mental health, but she had to do it from afar. And frankly, she later admitted, she wasn’t prepared for all that comes with running a nonprofit through a shutdown.

Still wanting to provide a “takeaway” learning opportunity for her students, Tish applied for a COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund grant through the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana in June 2020. She was awarded $3,000, using that funding to purchase months’ worth of supplies for each participant in the program.

“The COVID relief grant came right on time for us,” Tish says. “I didn’t want to, but we had to move to virtual classes at that time. So thanks to the Community Foundation, we were able to use the funding to purchase bags of supplies for the kids for that month’s lesson. They got canvas, paints, journals, pens, yoga mats – anything they would need to run a workshop from their home.”

Having those supplies made it possible for BAYA to maintain its mission throughout the pandemic.

“The students would jump on our normal time on Saturday and our yoga teacher would work with them for an hour. Then we would have our empowerment workshop for an hour and finish with art for an hour,” Tish says. “The girls still got everything they would get in the building, but we were just on Zoom. It was cool, though, because we were getting kids from out of state jumping on. They wouldn’t have the supplies we provided, but they could still interact with everyone else in the group. So that’s maybe the future of BAYA one day.”

Slowly Getting Back to Normal

While Tish says she still feels like her organization’s mission was fulfilled during the virtual meetings, she was ecstatic upon hearing the news that her BAYA Center could re-open.

BAYA’s Encouragement Wall

“There were a lot of tears and even more excitement when we opened back up. They were finally able to be back,” Tish says. “It was like the family was back together. I had a parent come in and say ‘I feel like I know you because you helped my daughter get through COVID. I had her on with you every week and she’s so thankful that you have this center for kids like her.’ I think it helped kids that were having a hard time. They could look forward to Saturdays because they knew they got to do this fun stuff with their group.”

But it wasn’t solely the “fun” activities that the girls returned for. Instead, they came back for the opportunity to be with other girls that are navigating this strange thing called life. They came back to be around a positive environment that would encourage them to be their authentic selves, something many feel they’re not able to do outside of the BAYA Center walls.

“I have several girls here that go by different names so that they can finally let their hair down,” Tish says. “We had a guest come in and do personality tests, and one of my girls got results that suggested she is an introvert and not outgoing. I couldn’t believe it because that’s not how she acts here. But she said, ‘No, Ms. Tish. In here, I can be myself. But out there, I’m not like that.’ Come to find out, it’s because she feels safe here and can express herself. She doesn’t have that outlet anywhere else.”

Stories like that are part of the reason the Southern Indiana community is getting behind BAYA even more. Even Chelsea Jordan, a freshman counselor from Jeffersonville High School, volunteers a few Saturdays each month, expanding her role as a mentor outside of Greater Clark County Schools. Tish, in turn, has also started bi-weekly meetings at Jeffersonville High School, with a goal of getting into local middle schools soon.

“I had heard about BAYA, but I had never seen it in action,” Chelsea says. “But then as the girls were speaking about it more, I could tell how it changed their life. I think Tish will continue to fine-tune the program as she goes on, but there is already a noticeable impact at Jeff High. The relationships she has with some of the lower-societal students is inspiring and something we absolutely need more of at JHS.”

And the growth will continue for the foreseeable future. Thanks to a recently awarded Capacity Building Grant from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, BAYA has an additional $14,000 in funding heading their way for strategic planning and leadership development, which will further the organization’s mission even more. Tish is using this funding to put into motion the organization’s strategic planning from 2020, as well as attend conferences on social and emotional learning.

“The Capacity Building Grant is going to help so much. You don’t understand – when we got that grant, I was absolutely thrilled to finally be able to go to these renowned conferences,” Tish says. “We did a strategic planning session three years ago and hiring somebody was a big part of that. Well then COVID hit, and funding dried up. And it was hard to do anything. So now, we’re in a position where we can get somebody in here, and we are just so excited for the growth possibilities that brings.”

And growth is something Tish is becoming more of an expert on by the day. While she started with just seven middle school girls less than a decade ago, BAYA has grown to over 500 total members.

“This place means so much to these girls. And I know it means so much because when we have to close up for holidays, they’re always asking when it’s going to be back open again. We even have former members returning and mentoring today’s kids. This is their home. They come in the door and kick their shoes off like they live here. They love it here because this is where they can be safe and they can be themselves. No judgement, no bullying, no cliques. It’s just a big family and a big sisterhood for girls who really need it.”

Tish Frederick, BAYA Executive Director

As for Jasmine, Tish’s daughter who was the inspiration behind the nonprofit? Dubbed as the “Test Subject” for Tish’s early curriculum, Jasmine is currently 21 years old and attends Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL on a track scholarship. Tish says her daughter, who still volunteers her time at BAYA, is “doing great” and is scheduled to graduate early this December.

“When my mom started this group, I thought it was just to give me a group of friends that were like-minded and going through similar situations. But it really wasn’t that – she was just supporting me the only way she knew how,” Jasmine says. “As I got older, I saw the value of what she was doing for me and other girls like me. For the first time, it helped me find myself. It showed me who I was outside of what other people thought of me. It took all that negative energy away. Today, I’m so thankful she took this on.”

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