Biden appeared at about 1:20 p.m. at the Ziibiwing Center, located at 6650 E Broadway Road, and was welcomed with a formal dancing, singing, and drum show by members of the tribe.
Biden's discussion centered on Project AWARE or Advancing Health and Resilience in Education, a five-year grant program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that seeks to teach educators on how to best recognize and respond to mental health issues and assist children and families in connecting to the services they need for mental health support.
The tribe got a $9 million grant through Project AWARE in 2019 and serves Saginaw Chippewa Academy, Mount Pleasant Public Schools and Shepherd Public Schools through its program. According to information provided, the American Rescue Plan Act included $30 million for Project AWARE. President Joe Biden's 2022 recommended budget consists of a further $60 million increase, possibly bringing the program's total funding to $191.5 million by the White House.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Chief Tim Davis, educators, community members, and local Project AWARE administrators joined Biden for the discussion. Tribal Education Director Melissa Isaac said she once discovered as a school administrator that 83% of her students had at least one kind of trauma they could recognize. In her first year as a teacher, she had two 2nd graders who had lost a parent, one to cancer and the other to suicide. She was a "driving force" in bringing the program to the community, Murthy said.
"We pulled the grants team together... got the door shut in our face a lot by different (agencies) only to realize something better was waiting, and that was Project AWARE," Isaac said.
The members said the program had a significant impact in its three areas by completing a social and emotional curriculum, offering counselors to give students a support system, and teaching kids strategies to manage their mental health properly. Mgizi Wemigwans, a senior at Mount Pleasant High School and co-chair of the SCIT Youth Council, said he could feel the program's therapy dogs' positive impact on everyone around when they walk by.
"My hope is that no child feels like they have to go through a battle alone," said Kelly Bechtel, a teacher at Mount Pleasant Middle School. "We're here to help them fight the battle and get them through it."