Why Jessii Vee Created YANA to Remind EVERYONE That 'You Are Not Alone'
When you watch the charismatic and captivating Jessii Vee, you'd never suspect that the star with more than 2.5 million YouTube subscribers and 3.5 million TikTok followers ever struggled with confidence and making friends.
Of course, people's lives are a lot more complicated than what you see on the surface. In her youth, Jessii struggled with bullies and connecting with people, and once she found her self-assuredness and made a name for herself online, she decided to do something about the millions of others around the world who felt the same way.
That's why she created YANA (You Are Not Alone), a platform that inspires people who feel left out, lonely, anxious and isolated, allowing them to reach out and find their place within a safe community. It's a message that's very close to our hearts, which is why we connected with Jessii to find out all about YANA and how it go started, and why finding your place can be so important. Read all of it here.
Sweety High: What inspired you to create the YANA community?
Jessii Vee: Believe it or not, growing up I was incredibly shy, and because of that I had very few friends and was picked on quite a lot for being the "weird one."
I'll always remember this one particular day in eighth grade—I had gone to ballet class and left my bag in the change room while I went to the washroom. When I came back, I saw that one of the girls had gone through my things and found my diary. I watched as she stood on a chair and read the pages to all her friends. They were laughing hysterically and I wanted to just melt into the floor.
It was that day that I realized how cruel people could be—especially to people that are "different." In high school, I would spend most of my lunch breaks in the library so I could avoid the cafeteria. If things were really bad, I would hide in a bathroom stall just to catch a break from the anxiety of school. This is what inspired me to create a YANA community, because I wished more than anything to have people that understood me and that were like me. Just seeking a friend or a place that made me feel comfortable.
(Photo credit: Jessii Vee)
SH: Why did it feel so necessary to do so? In your own words, what is YANA all about?
JV: I didn't realize it at the time, but there are so many kids out there that were exactly like me—that feared school, that were being bullied, that felt alone. So, I felt as though this YANA group was essential to have in schools everywhere, so that everyone had an opportunity to reach out to people that were more than happy to support them.
YANA is about community, creating friendships and a place where you won't be judged. I've been so excited seeing this program being implemented in more than 50 schools around the world. I've seen pictures of kids walking through the hallways putting up quotes and positive affirmations on the walls such as "You can do this," "You are not alone," "You are loved," "You are beautiful," etc. They've been putting posters up encouraging people to visit their YANA group if they are feeling alone or seeking community—I think this is an amazing movement.
SH: How did you come up with the name "You Are Not Alone"?
JV: This phrase was the exact thing that I was hoping to be told by someone—because when you're in a situation where you feel isolated and hopeless, you want to know that it's not as uncommon as you think. You want to know that you're not actually alone and that millions of people around the world are struggling with you. High school is not easy, and I think that needs to change.
(Photo credit: Jessii Vee)
SH: What things did you learn in building a massive social media community that carried over into creating a successful platform for supporting people?
JV: I started my YouTube channel telling true stories about my life that I hoped people could relate to. I told my bullying story, my journey with mental health, my struggle with Lyme disease and other normal things kids and teenagers go through. Because that was the direction of my content, I was able to read thousands of stories from people that were going through the exact same things. On the daily, I would read comments about their worries and their challenges as they went through life. I told myself that I always wanted my platform to be a place that people felt safe and supported, and that's never changed.
SH: Do you feel like your own life could have been different if you'd grown up with something like YANA?
JV: If there was a YANA group back when I was in high school, I think things would have been a lot easier for me. Instead of hiding in the library by myself or in a bathroom stall, I would have been surrounded by kind people ready to support me. Even if it's a place that you just go to eat your lunch or finish your homework—at least you won't be doing it alone.
SH: You started YANA before the pandemic hit, but its messages might have become even more important over that time. What have you learned about creating safe, online spaces for people since that happened?
JV: Although the pandemic has made it difficult for kids to have a physical group to go to during school, it has still been possible to have a YANA community online. I have an Instagram page called @yana_group where I post positive affirmations and inspirational quotes during the week so that people have some positivity showing up on their feeds.
School anxiety isn't the only thing that people are dealing with—this pandemic has hit people really hard as well. The world feels so uncertain right now and the past year has really affected many people's mental health. Online support is so essential now that people are being isolated at home. I'm using my platforms to encourage people to keep their heads up—to remind them that this isn't forever. I also hope that my videos provide a much-needed distraction from everything going on.
(Photo credit: Jessii Vee)
SH: Have you seen YANA benefitting people in different ways since the start of the pandemic?
JV: My favorite messages to receive are from people telling me their stories about how YANA has positively affected their lives. Whether it's been from joining a group at their school, or from talking to other kids online that they met on the YANA Instagram page. It's heartwarming to see how many people support each other in the comment sections of posts. If someone writes that they are feeling hopeless, 10 people come to their rescue and offer to talk—it's amazing!
SH: What can we expect next from you, both in terms of YANA and your YouTube and TikTok pages?
JV: On my main Instagram page (@jessiivee) I'm doing monthly livestreams called "Jess Checking In" where I spread awareness on different topics like anxiety, bullying, mental health, etc. Each stream I'll be covering something different and answering a ton of questions—I think it's a great way for me to actively communicate with my audience and I want it to be a safe place that we can all just talk about our struggles. I've been through quite a lot and I've learned quite a lot growing up, so I want to share those experiences to the best of my ability. I'm also looking forward to continuing to grow my YouTube channel and TikTok page because creating content is my passion. If I can make even one person laugh or feel like they have a place to go when days are tough, then I've done what I originally set out to do.
SH: Anything else you'd like to add?
JV: I came up with a quote that I like to tell everyone —"Embrace your weird side, because normal is boring and people will love you for who you really are!"
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