Written By Rachel Jordan
Like many others, Brayden Guerrette and his older sister Sydney have had their fair share of their mental health struggles since they were young. Back in their hometown of Portland, Maine, during a very intimate exchange on their kitchen floor, Brayden Guerrette finally opened up to his parents and older sister about his dealings with depression.
“We were just sitting there and he was just in tears, and as someone who is watching a family member and someone that they love go through something like that, it’s always very difficult because you don’t know what to do most of the time,” Sydney says. “All you can really do is be there for them continually.”
After this exchange, the Guerrette family took a leap of faith for the sake of their family’s mental health and sold their house, bought an RV and started their journey across the country in hopes of a healthy, fresh start.
The brother-sister duo transcended into their mental health movement when the two performed Brayden’s original song “Conscience” together for the first time on the road. The song uncovers Brayden’s story and his personal struggles with depression and suicidal ideation.
“Whenever we played it for the first time, it was super emotional,” Sydney says. “This is real, and we’re sharing something that’s very vulnerable, but in it, there’s so much beauty.”
With both siblings being so young, Brayden, 17, and Sydney, 20, the two take personal responsibility for the lyrics they write, as the subject matter can be extremely discouraging and deflating at times. Of course, the more personal the situation is, the more difficult it may sometimes be to try and transform those struggles into lyrics, but both Sydney and Brayden have found it uplifting to see how those words can help and encourage those who listen.
“It can be encouraging knowing or finding people who are doing like-minded things with their art because you know that other people are trying to say the same thing through that, and trying to use their art on a platform to make a difference,” says Sydney. “I think it’s always discouraging though when you realize those things are a reality, but I think it’s important to understand because you don’t want to be blinded or ignorant to what is happening around you.”
Along their journey, Sydney and Brayden encountered several individuals who shared their personal stories and struggles, which led the siblings to write their first song on the road, “Beloved.” The song touches on intimate but serious stories told by people they consulted along the way.
“We grew up learning that everything we do, we need to think of how it can help someone else,” Sydney stated.
Alongside her anxiety struggles, Sydney goes into depth about her personal fight between her fears of people’s expectations, fear of moving forward, and the fear of the unknown, which can be troubling sometimes, especially as a musician and non-profit owner.
“Because of those experiences, it’s been easier to talk about it because I understand that once more people know that these are things that I’ve struggled with, they don’t feel alone, which is the only reason why I share it,” says Sydney. “I think it helps though when writing songs because the more vulnerable you are in your art, the better you put it out there.”
Before the Guerette family decided to pack up their lives and live on the road, with the help of their mother, Deirdre Catlett, the family came together to create the Be The Change youth initiative. This non-profit organization has been operating for around 5 years now. It focuses on helping and encouraging individuals to share their gifts and talents to make a difference. However, it wasn’t until the family took their initiative on the road that the organization took a mental health turn and started to focus on those struggling with issues, just as Brayden and Sydney.
The two make it a personal effort to indulge in their supporters’ stories and what they have to say. Along with their Be The Change youth initiative, reaching out to those who need someone to talk to, Sydney and Brayden keep helping cards that they hand out at shows to locate alternative sources that can help people with whatever they’re going through.
Sydney and Brayden use their music and lyrics as a poetic way of standing by those struggling and supporting them through their journey. This inspiring upbringing transformed the two into the people they are today.
“Take that one step to reach out to someone you trust and let them know,” stated Brayden, “People just need to know they’re they’re cared about.”
A Mother’s Love
Written by Niah Davis
A nonprofit operations director, teacher, marathon enthusiast, and even described as a saint by Sydney and Brayden Guerrette, Deirdre Catlett has given endless time and resources to guide them to where they are today.
“She was the one who encouraged all of us to keep forward when we didn’t believe in ourselves. She basically has been the one who has held it all together when we were at our lowest points.” Sydney says.
When the family was traveling the country, doctors found a mass in her uterus while in Washington. It was difficult for the family because they had to rely on friends in order to make appointments for Deirdre to get examined.
“It was a very dark time, but it made us realize life is short and we need to learn to hold on to the people that we have close to us,” Sydney says.
Instead of letting her health negatively affect the family, Deirdre found out about America’s Got Talent tryouts and used this as an opportunity to support Sydney and Brayden’s dream.
“She wanted to take our minds off of it and she thought auditioning for America’s Got Talent was the great solution!” Sydney says.
Deirdre had to get a radical hysterectomy in order to address the mass, and in spite of the struggle she faced, she was walking within two days of surgery.
Throughout her childrens’ lives, she has had to give up career paths that ultimately lead to her current role as the Operations Director of Be The Change Youth Initiative.
When she was on her way to fulfill a life goal of running in a seven year long marathon in 50 states she became pregnant with her youngest son and had to be on bed rest.
“It was hard, it took me 9 months of being pregnant to come to terms with it, but I did,” she says.
Deirdre also spent four years in seminary school pursuing her passion for teaching. Unfortunately, she was unable to finish her last semester once Be The Change became a major focus of her life. Deirdre received her masters degree, but it was not for teaching.
“It became very clear to us that teaching was not what I was going to be doing. At least not from an academic sense and that Be The Change was going to be the focus of our lives for a season” Deirdre says. “I switched my major to make it so that I could graduate in that semester.”
While some may look at what Deirdre has given up as missed opportunities, she sees a trail of seeds planted in her life. She took each experience and applied it to Be The Change.
“I might not be doing what I wanted to do with those things, but now looking back on it I see why they were important and how they led us to this place,” Deirdre says.
Deirdre continues to help Sydney and Brayden grow in not only their careers, but as young adults. Looking in as a mother she is proud of her children for using their voices to speak up about injustices, mental health and tackling the difficult topics.
“My mom sacrificed her dream to pursue Be The Change and I always hold on to that. She never makes me feel bad for it, but in the back of my head I just want to make her proud,” Sydney says. “My parents have given up so much and they did it because they love us. They understand that the mission is to help other people with everything that you do.”
Seth Carpenter is a photojournalist as well as the current Photo Editor of UT Chattanooga’s student-run newspaper, the University Echo. Recently, he told the story of how a nurse and her family have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes the stories he tells will make a difference in the lives of people around him. You can contact him at Sethcarpenter101@gmail.com.
Joanna Kasuboski is a videographer and multi-media editor who is currently working on her BA in Communication Major. Her experiences include working in trying to find inventive ways for people to go on Conservation Trips with Nova Conservation Podcast and creative projects in film. What drives her in her passion is to help her community around her. To contact Joanna, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rachel Jordan is a broadcast journalist with four years of broadcasting experience and is currently a junior Communications major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Rachel is a hardworking, dedicated individual who aspires to capture people’s interests through her words of storytelling. In her free time, Rachel enjoys listening to music, painting, and catching up on her favorite podcasts. For questions or collaboration with Rachel, contact her at email@example.com.
Haley Bayer is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and currently majoring in Communications with a Women’s Gender and Sexuality minor. Bayer has experience in photography, audio, and design and is always open to learning new skills. In the future, Bayer would like to work in Media Management. She is a hardworking and persevering individual who aspires to use her voice in Rising Rock to share the stories of others. In her free time, Bayer enjoys spending time with others, exploring, and listening to music. To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Niah Davis is a Communications major with a minor in Business Administration and works as a Feature Writer for College Fashionista. Davis is experienced in writing, content creation, and influencer marketing. In her free time, Niah hosts a podcast, creates content for Nars Cosmetics, and takes photographs. For questions or collaboration with Niah, contact her at email@example.com.