Cierra Guest was a sophomore at Woodland Hills High School when her 24-year-old sister, Jasmine, was shot and killed in May 2021.
Feeling as though she had no place to go in the school to deal with her trauma, she missed the remainder of the year while trying to reconcile with her loss.
Now a senior at the high school, Cierra has made it her mission to create a space that will give other students confronting trauma the kind of support that she felt was absent when her sister died. That pursuit led to the opening Friday of the high school’s “Resiliency Room,” a new resource for students dealing with mental health issues.
“I know a lot of my peers struggle with a trauma because we are in a trauma-filled environment,” said Cierra, 17. “I wanted to implement this room in our school to help them deal with their issues and help heal them so that they didn’t have to go through the same experience I had to go through, so that they have somewhere safe to be, and they feel like school is a place they can recover from trauma.”
The Resiliency Room, located on the second floor of the high school, will not just give students a place to go but will also provide a space to learn how to deal with their emotions.
Intentionally painted light blue with covers attached to the ceiling to soften the overhead lights, the room is divided by sheer curtains into several sections where students can create artwork, journal, knit, meditate or participate in other activities that help them heal. It will be staffed by a teacher, counselor or mental health professional from a community partner.
Cathy Welsh — who works with Helping Out Our People, a Woodland Hills community partner — said the room was needed because of the amount of trauma in the Woodland Hills School District. The district, which includes five low-income housing developments, has 114 families who have lost a loved one to gun violence.
“For me, a lot of our kids are going to live with domestic violence, poverty, sexual assault,” Welsh said. “They’re going to live with these traumas we can’t stop them from having, and no matter where you live in the district, your parents don’t say, ‘Here’s some coping skills, try this.’ It’s just not something that happens.”
The Resiliency Room, she said, will help students build those skills.
“In order to be in there, you have to be journaling, you have to be doing art,” Welsh said. “So to me, it’s like we’re giving them their medicine inside of mashed potatoes. They’re not even going to know that they’re building a coping skill.”
Welsh, who lost her son, Jeremy, in a 2017 shooting, became friends with Cierra through HOOP, which assists families who have experienced gun violence. She credits Cierra with coming up with both the concept and design for the Resiliency Room.
The two visited a couple of similar spaces in other local schools to determine what they wanted to incorporate in the Woodland Hills version. They took those ideas back to the school district, which supported the project.
Much of the supplies in the room, from snacks to a couch, were donated by community members, and a volunteer painted the room, according to Shelly Manns, co-principal of Woodland Hills High School. Other costs were covered by a grant the school received for supporting student mental health needs.
The project took about six months to complete.
“It was a labor of love,” Cierra said. “A lot of networking was done, a lot of personal time and care was put into the room. It was definitely a lot of work, but I think it was very well worth it.”