In an effort to create a safe haven for teens that focuses on mental wellness, West Ranch High School seniors and tennis team co-captains Brooke Johnston and Shaira Busnawi decided to create a blog.
The idea came to them on a rainy day in February when the team’s tennis practice was canceled.
“Somehow Shaira and I opened up to each other about our longtime wishes to create a blog,” Johnston said. “We bounced ideas off each other. She wanted to write about philosophy and law and stuff like that, and I wanted to write about creative writing, but we found common ground in wanting to create a community online.”
With school in session and tennis their main priority, the idea took a backseat, only re-emerging through the quarantine, when both girls had more time on their hands and a revived inspiration.
“Something that I struggled with over quarantine was feeling alone and not having anyone to talk to, and I know a lot of other teens have also felt that way,” Busnawi said, adding that they then decided to create a blog that revolved around mental wellness. “Everyone’s navigating through their life, and we’re just trying to figure out who we are, so we just wanted it to be relatable and a home for teens.”
Once settled on an idea, the girls quickly got to work, with Busnawi creating the website in just a day and Johnston coming up with the ideas behind the quirky name, Hiraeth.
“I really like finding and exploring interesting words that mean a lot, all packed into one word,” Johnston said. “Hiraeth means a homesickness for a home that you can’t return to or that doesn’t exist, so we thought that was just so expandable, and that we could just take that word and make it into something amazing, like an amazing home and amazing community for people.”
Johnston’s ideas for the blog revolved around Hiraeth, hoping to create a welcoming, community-based platform that allowed them to explore every part of teenage life.
From there, the idea quickly blossomed, with both girls submitting journal entries that discusses both global and local issues, and starting a book club, where each book also touches on important issues.
“We don’t want it to just be a home for other people, it’s really like a diary for us,” Johnston added. “It’s really therapeutic for us and a home for us, too, and we want to share it with other people, trying to be as vulnerable as we can so that other people feel safe to do that. If one person feels at home because of it, it’s all worth it.”
Busnawi agreed, adding, “I feel like whenever I go on to the blog, I feel that I’m so at home because of the topics and the issues that we talk about affect us as teenagers. … Sometimes I won’t be able to sleep at night, so I’ll write a blog post because it literally helps me get my feelings out.”
That being said, the girls hope to create a community with their audience, making sure they, too, can participate in the conversations.
“I hope teens reach out to us and want to talk about their issues because a lot of the times it’s hard for teenagers to talk to adults, so we just want to be there for people, whether that’s in the form of talking to them or writing up blogs and posts for them to relate to,” Busnawi added.
Their first post about breakups did just that, garnering responses about how much other teens related to it.
“I was literally crying because that was my goal,” Busnawi said. “As long as someone resonated with it, that’s the end goal.”
The feeling is mutual for Johnston, who said she loves when people say that a post moved them or helped them to feel better about themselves.
“It came together so fast because it’s something that we both always wanted, and to see that come to life was really special,” Johnston added. “I really, really love it.”
The girls hope to continue to grow the blog and its community, with plans to feature others’ stories about how they’ve been staying busy and keeping mentally healthy during the quarantine.
“The more we do it, the better we’ll get at it, so we just want to not give up,” Johnston said.
Through the website, visitors can input their email or phone number so that they receive notifications of new posts or they can join the book club.