Tragedy inspires life-saving foundation

Marisa Vicere ’01 

“In 2010, my older sister, Jana Vicere (State High Graduate of 1999 – GED program), died by suicide,” Marisa shared. “Eight months later, I started the Jana Marie Foundation in her memory. The organization harnesses the power of creative expression and dialogue to spark conversations, build connections and promote mental health among young people and their communities.” 

Marisa’s time in State College schools molded her into the woman she has become. “I am so grateful for my time at State College Area School District and how it prepared me for life,” she said. “When I started the Jana Marie Foundation, I reached out to many of my past teachers for guidance and advice, and many have helped shape the Jana Marie Foundation into what it is today.”  

Marisa graduated in 2001. She went on to college at Susquehanna University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Marketing and Business Administration with a minor in Spanish. After graduation, she worked at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts in Promotions from 2004 – 2007 before becoming a Program Director for The Little Gym in Philadelphia from 2008 – 2014. And then, in 2015, she received her MBA from Smeal College of Business.  

Currently, she is serving as the President and Founder of the Jana Marie Foundation, and she and her husband, Jeff Byers, have a seven-year-old son, Reggie. “My plans involve continuing to grow and expand the Jana Marie Foundation to make a lasting impact in the lives of young people,” she shared. “I also look forward to spending time with my family and making new memories over the years.”  

Over the last ten years, Marisa cites the Jana Marie Foundation as her greatest accomplishment. “It is forging community connections and growing awareness for mental health and suicide prevention. The nonprofit continues to grow and thrive, reaching schools and communities throughout Centre County, directly impacting over 5,000 people annually,” she said.  

The community agrees that the foundation has a profound positive impact on the State College community and beyond. “The programs have reached thousands of people and continue growing. Marisa is very proactive in trying to make sure people know they are not alone and that there are always ways to help,” said the individual who nominated Marisa for this honor.  

In the formation and growth of the foundation, Marisa obtained and established various certificates and events. These include:  

  • Certified instructor for Mental Health First Aid (adult, youth, and teen versions, with designations for Higher Education and Rural Communities). 
  • Certified instructor for QPR Suicide Prevention for Gatekeepers 
  • 200-hour Wellness, SEL, and Teacher Certification from Breathe for Change 
  • Established September 10th as Centre County Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day through the Centre County Commissioners in 2013, which remains an annual event today. 
  • She collaborated with State College Area School District to implement the Straight Talk education program in the community in 2012, which celebrated its 10th anniversary.
  • Designed and implemented over 15 signature programs to help grow young people’s confidence, foster conversations, and build community connections. 
  • Graduated from Leadership Centre County in 2016 

Marisa is a four-time recipient of the PA Business Central’s Top 100 Organization, three-time recipient of the PA Business Central’s Top 20 Nonprofit Female Leaders, and Top Mental Health First Aid Instructor for Pennsylvania from the National Council for Mental Well-Being. This small sample of the nearly 20 awards she has received shows her commitment to making a difference and changing lives.  

She is proud to be an honoree for the Maroon and Gray Society: “I am so honored to receive this award. I value staying connected with the State College Area School District community. The experiences and connections I made at SCASD helped shape me into the person I am today,” she said.  

She shared this beautiful advice for today’s students—“Don’t be afraid to be your authentic self. We are all perfectly imperfect, making this world so beautiful.” 

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