UK Students Help Spread “Rae of Sunshine” to Combat Stigma of Mental Illness

After Taylora Schlossler lost her daughter, Taylor Rae, to suicide in January 2019, she wanted to do something to prevent such tragedies in the future. She founded Rae of Sunshine in her daughter’s honor, hoping to help others who are struggling with mental health issues and increase access to mental health resources.

It’s a daunting task, but she got some help this past fall from students in a Social Marketing class at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Kentucky (UK), thanks to Kimberly Parker, an associate professor at UK’s College of Communication and Information’s Department of Integrated Strategic Communication. The students collaborated with Rae of Sunshine to support her mission of spreading positivity and eliminating the stigma of mental illness for their Fall 2021 semester project.

To all outward appearances, Taylor Rae Schlossler appeared to be a happy person, getting ready for her second semester as a sophomore at UK, according to the Rae of Sunshine website. “Her double major, Integrated Strategic Communications and Digital Media and Design, had led her to a wonderful internship at iHeart Radio,” the website notes. “She had the chance to meet and interact with notable musical acts and work alongside a variety of media and broadcast personalities. She was very excited to move into her new office and soak up the incredible opportunity.”

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Taylor had recently returned from a rock-climbing adventure with her boyfriend. On January 7, 2019, she returned to her home in the Chi Omega sorority house for the new semester with her new dog, Rosie, a Christmas present that she loved. “The pictures she posted online of her life’s journey told the story of a beautiful girl with tons of opportunity and potential. Seemingly, life was not just good, it was the kind of ‘good’ that every young girl dreams of having.”

But the next night, January 8, Taylor took her own life. “This was not the last chapter of Taylor’s life, though,” the website adds. “Her family is committed to using Taylor’s story to help others who are struggling with mental health issues.  The Rae of Sunshine Foundation, Inc. works to bring awareness, give back, and partner with schools, churches, institutions and any other groups wanting to provide support and training that stresses the importance of mental health issues.”

Schlossler, Taylor’s mother, attended Parker’s class at the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester to discuss Rae of Sunshine’s mission and its current needs. Student groups were then tasked with creating a social marketing campaign for Rae of Sunshine that included the campaign’s purpose, primary focus, market analysis, target audience description, objectives, barriers, competitors, creative content and budget plan.

“Having the opportunity to create an applicable and measurable campaign for a nonprofit so close to my heart was both an honor and a hands-on experience I can share with future employers,” senior ISC major Katherine Yochum said.

Students noted that the assignment was rewarding because it gave them the opportunity to start important conversations about mental health with their peers.

Taylor Rae Schlossler

“No one is alone in their mental health struggle, and I learned just how much that concept needs to be illuminated. These conversations have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life for good,” Shelby Arnett, another ISC senior, said. “I am incredibly passionate about mental health, so partnering with Rae of Sunshine for this social marketing campaign felt like a dream come true.”

Arnett, Yochum and their classmates presented their final projects in class in front of several special guests, including Schlossler and Jennifer Greer, dean of the College of Communication and Information.

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“It was so obvious that the students worked so hard and were passionate and genuine. It wasn’t a project they completed for a grade—it meant something to every single group,” Schlossler said. “I really hope we can take these projects and turn them into a reality on UK’s campus.”

Students worked all semester on creating the many parts of the campaign and the final presentation. Parker noted that students were passionate about Rae of Sunshine from the beginning and excited to share their final projects with Schlossler.

“It meant so much to me to know that they worked so hard on something that would honor Taylor and that Taylora would be proud of,” said Parker. “It was exciting to watch them take their skill sets and see the potential it has to make a difference.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Kentucky website.

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