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‘She is a true leader’: Dulaney lacrosse freshman Maya Tarantino focuses on mental health awareness off the field

When freshman Maya Tarantino was playing in a fall recreation lacrosse league in 2020, she met some of her future teammates on the 2021 varsity team at Dulaney High.

One of them was senior standout midfielder Sammy White, who plans to play next season for Northwestern, which is competing in this weekend’s NCAA Division I tournament semifinals at Towson University.

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“I was so nervous and she came over and was like talking to us,” Tarantino said. “She never acts like she is above anyone else. She always makes you feel like you are part of the family, and it was very comforting and made adjusting to the team so much easier.”

Tarantino is one of four freshmen on Dulaney’s varsity squad and starts on defense for the Lions, who have won four straight games since a season-opening loss to Hereford.

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In a scrimmage earlier this spring, White made sure Tarantino got involved.

“She passed the ball to me so I could score,” Tarantino said. “It’s something small that you don’t think about, but I really appreciated it, because she gave me a shot to showcase my ability.”

Tarantino’s ability goes beyond playing defense for the Lions after being a midfielder for her C2 club lacrosse team.

Off the field, she is helping others all over the world. Last November, she was recruited by co-founder and CEO Kim Karr of the #ICANHELP organization, which focuses on mental health and creating a positive impact through social media and digital technology.

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Tarantino got involved in student council in middle school and was the school president in eighth grade.

“Summer going into freshman year, I went to the national student council conference and decided I wanted to do something more outside of student council,” Tarantino said. “I knew I wanted to get involved with mental health because growing up I still have always been the person that people came to with their problems or if they are struggling. I kind of attract that.”

Karr was impressed by her ability to take a leadership role from the outset.

“She is a true leader, like on the field and off the field, she is doing a lot for us [making short videos] on our TikTok account and having conversations about mental health, and that’s the reason why she wanted to reach out to us at the beginning because she really wanted to be an advocate about mental health which is great,” Karr said. “She is amazing.”

Tarantino became more aware of the struggles that students were going through during the COVID-19 pandemic that kept people isolated.

“I started to notice how many people were really struggling and it kind of went unnoticed, so I decided I wanted to actually do something about it and learn how I could handle that, so I wanted to do something with mental health and #ICANHELP is really perfect for it.”

Dulaney freshman defender Maya Tarantino scored her first two goals of the season in a victory over Eastern Tech.
Dulaney freshman defender Maya Tarantino scored her first two goals of the season in a victory over Eastern Tech. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

On Oct. 20, Tarantino’s focus on helping others became crystal clear when a Dulaney freshman she had attended elementary and middle school with took his own life.

“What freshman in high school puts together an amazing event to talk about mental health because she knew there was an issue with suicide at her school?” Karr said. “She is absolutely incredible.”

“It was very reassuring that what I was doing was the right kind of path for me because I joined #ICANHELP two months after that [suicide] happened,” Tarantino said.

Tarantino felt fortunate that she was able to handle her own quarantine from COVID-19.

“Especially after this past year, I had so many people coming to me talking about how much pain they are going through,” said Tarantino, who spent time with her 23-year-old sister from Colorado and 21-year old brother who was home from Johns Hopkins. “I was very lucky. My family are my best friends, so quarantine wasn’t too bad for me. We kind of had a good time.”

The virtual setting allowed Tarantino to reach out to students globally.

“We have people from other countries, which I find really cool, so we get to meet people from all around the world, which is really fun,” Tarantino said.

Said Karr: “Before COVID we were meeting virtually and that’s why we are very good at creating a family-friendly feel and empowering the students even online because we needed to hear from all the students across the nation because technology is constantly changing.”

Alexa Negrete, who lives in Phoenix and is a freshman at Northern Arizona, is the digital media intern and Tarantino is one of her digital media specialists.

“She is awesome. Right when she joined our team she immediately had ideas of products she wanted to work on and she has been a really great team player and helping pitch in and take #ICANHELP to the next level,” said Negrete, who joined the organization in the seventh grade.

The internship program has always been virtual, so Negrete and Tarantino have never met in person, but that hasn’t prevented them from becoming close friends.

“I have not met Maya in person and that is so funny because our whole #ICANHELP team has created such a family because we all have a common interest and a common desire to help make change and we have really bonded over that,” Negrete said. “It’s crazy to think that she was hundreds of miles away in Maryland and I’m all the way out in Arizona, but we talk all the time.”

Dulaney freshman Maya Tarantino got involved in student council in middle school and was the school president in eighth grade.
Dulaney freshman Maya Tarantino got involved in student council in middle school and was the school president in eighth grade. (Jeffrey F. Bill/Baltimore Sun Media)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Tarantino’s focus has been on that.

“We are doing a lot of social media posts on mental health and kind of just supporting people about everything going on,” she said.

Tarantino also has been involved with first-responder training.

“It trains you how to handle it when someone comes to you, like if they are coming to you about the fact that they are struggling, they tell you how to take care of that and handle that,” Tarantino said.

She even reached out to Karr to speak to Dulaney students in a virtual workshop, and Dulaney girls lacrosse coach Kristi Korrow made sure her players got the message.

“Coach Korrow is so supportive of everything with mental health and told the girls homework that night was to come to the event that I was holding, so they all came and they were so great,” Tarantino said.

Said Karr: “She had like 35 students show up and honestly that’s really hard to do right now because no student really wants to give up their time and they don’t want to do one more virtual thing. It was planned by a student and it’s a peer-to-peer thing and that is why our organization works.”

Tarantino said her role might change as more restrictions are lifted from the pandemic, but she’s ready for the challenge.

“What’s going to be interesting about next year is I got into this while it was still virtual, so I’m really good at planning virtual events now, but it’s going to be interesting when I have to start planning in-person events and thinking about that stuff, so I’m kind of excited,” she said.

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She is also excited about the rest of the lacrosse season, including a state tournament the team found out about last week.

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“We are all so excited,” Tarantino said. “When Korrow told us that we were going to have a state tournament we were all cheering on the field.”

Dulaney finishes the regular season with games at Franklin (June 1) and home against Hereford (June 3). Tarantino, who scored two goals in a 19-5 win over Eastern Tech, is feeling confident.

“We always have high hopes,” Tarantino said. “Coach Korrow said she never sets any low expectations. She has high hopes. We are not going to go into a tournament thinking we are going to lose, we want to win.”

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