Charging On with V-A-R at the University of Central Florida

Geela Margo Ramos
Geela Margo Ramos

As a student at the University of Central Florida, making an impact on student mental health has been something I’m passionate about due to my experience supporting close friends and their mental wellbeing. A common phrase we hear as University of Central Florida Knights is to “Armor up, and charge on!” When I think of this phrase, what first comes to mind is the facades we may put up as shields against our own emotions at times. 

As part of an organization that serves a population of around 70,000 students, the question that usually follows after this phrase is “What are the best ways we can charge on and make an impact in the lives of our fellow Knights?” I’ve come to realize, in my position as an Active Minds Chapter Leader, that we do this best by teaching others how to “charge on” in their conversations. The smallest of actions can be the most empowering, and equipping students with the tools to guide a conversation about mental health can go a long way. These tools help them to be there for one another. These tools help them to be more mindful of their well-being. These tools help them to listen, and most importantly, these tools help them to be heard.

That’s where the Active Minds Validate, Appreciate, Refer® (V-A-R) everyday tool comes into play. V-A-R provides the steps to help everyone have conversations about mental health so they can show up and be there for a friend or loved one in need of support. To bring this life-changing tool to campuses, communities, and workplaces across the nation, Active Minds created a new and expanded V-A-R toolkit with generous support from our national partner, Kendra Scott

“Almost every family in America faces a mental health challenge at some point, and my family is no exception. We must remove the stigma and continue to educate ourselves so that we see the signs when someone is struggling and are empowered to offer support. In partnership with Active Minds, I am confident that this V-A-R program will help equip students and young adults to have proactive conversations around their mental health. And we can and will save lives by doing so.”

– Kendra Scott, Founder, and Executive Chairwoman, Kendra Scott, LLC

Being heard can be a struggle as part of a university with such a huge population. Implementing and providing V-A-R training has become integral to opening up dialogue with groups we started to collaborate with this past academic year. For example, you can take the word “play” quite literally for us, as we were able to incorporate the messaging of V-A-R through a recent charity stream we hosted with Esports at UCF. During breaks between segments of the stream, we would broadcast what V-A-R was to viewers, and in the fifteen to thirty seconds, they’re exposed to it, and they’ve learned something new! 

This form of subliminal messaging can be just as powerful as the live training sessions we host for other organizations on and off-campus. Each session was customized to the mission of the collaborating group, whether it was being provided to those who are active in Greek life or those who volunteered for other advocacy initiatives. Moving forward, in our upcoming transition, the goal of our officer board includes adding V-A-R as an official training provided through both our Counseling and Psychological Services as well as the Office of Social Justice and Advocacy. We also look to provide this training to the students of our sports clubs – of which UCF has over 40 teams – and various student leaders.

Why does this work so well? It’s because V-A-R makes it relatable and easy to digest with just three simple steps. What I believe is that those who attended our training come to appreciate is that regardless of where your expertise lies, you learn that you don’t have to be an expert to help, you just need to be there. V-A-R assists you in charging on as you transform from a bystander into a proactive leader! 

To learn more about the new V-A-R toolkit and other ways you can bring this resource to your community now or pre-plan activities for this fall, visit