“We can learn so much about helping young people become happy, responsible and compassionate adults, just by listening…” (I thought after my recent visit with the MHA of Rockland County’s SUCCESS TEAM).
The SUCCESS TEAM has been a part of the MHA of Rockland County for 24 years. Brought to the agency by its founder Susan Hadley, Children & Family Services Director. Marcella Amorese has overseen it since its inception at the MHA. Based at Spring Valley High School, it is purely voluntary. Students can attend twice a week; this past spring session, 65 students participated, with a total of 341 visits.
Why do the students come? “It’s a safe zone…A place where I feel I belong…It’s fun!” were just a few of the answers. “But so what?” you might ask. Several of the 15 to 18 year olds present that day responded. “It’s essential to have a place in which young people can open up…If not, you wouldn’t want to be here and might drop out of school.” “If young people don’t have this (space), it can lead to depression, not trusting anyone…You would probably distance yourself from other people or worse.”
It’s not rocket science! Not the latest technology! Yet, the experience of feeling accepted, of belonging has a clear impact on our lives; these are the foundations for our positive mental health – enjoying our lives, pursuing our dreams and goals and facing and overcoming adversity!
One SUCCESS TEAM 10th grader explained, “We get to know teachers, adults better…We see each other not just as teacher/student, but as friends…someone that you can trust.” Relationships with caring adults is the universally-cited factor contributing to a young person’s resilience.
“Open communication with (an) adolescent and support (for the) adolescent’s growing independence —also promote the young person’s self-worth.” Adolescent Health Highlights, Child Trends “There are no right or wrong answers,” Program Coordinator Shelly Kalinsky explained, when she introduced the SUCCESS TEAM values survey. And a lively discussion ensued!
One student agreed with the first statement, “If one of my friends saw a copy of the next test on the teacher’s desk, I would look at it with him.” She explained, “If the test copy does not have the answers, then it would be fine to take a look. It would help us to prepare for taking the test!” Another student strongly disagreed. “I was taught that you have to work hard for what you earn, including your test scores. I would not look at it!”
“This is also a place to talk about things that are bothering you…We talk about stresses, relationships, things getting you down,” Kalinsky explained. In this space, “there isn’t pressure to be cool or like everyone else,” a young man and aspiring actor added. “Here, you don’t have to have a lot, you can just be yourself.” Another young man, who shared his interest in becoming a police officer who cares about black neighborhoods, explained, “I come here to learn how to express myself without feeling judged… It’s hard for me to open up.”
Mental health issues are a part of the SUCCESS TEAM conversations. “If you say that you have a mental issue to the wrong people, they will make you feel like you’re less than them,” one student explained. “I’ve learned a lot from our True-False mental health quiz discussions,” a 10th grader shared. “I didn’t know that people with mental health problems can get a regular job.” Another young woman explained, “I thought it was normal to get very depressed…I didn’t know there was anything you could do about it!”
Prior to my visit, I was told, “the bulletin board was covered with positive messages”: “STRONG,” “PATIENCE,” “BE,” “KIND,” “DIFFERENT,” “SMART,” “DETERMINED,” “HARD WORKER,” “FOCUS.” ”It was awesome,” one of the students shared with feeling! “We don’t hear these messages a lot!”…I saw lots of nods. Having a positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities is another resilience-building factor. Helpguide.org
“This group gave me the courage to show my artwork. I even sang in a talent show and did not feel scared,” 18 year old Anjna Arun shared. “I feel so welcomed and accepted here. I can talk about my culture and not feel alone.” Anjna’s family came to the United States eight months ago; her goal is to become a forensic psychologist.
“Here we’re asked what we want to do (not told what we should do!) and then given support to do it,” explained a student with interests in cosmetology, criminal justice and physical therapy. “And it doesn’t matter what! You feel like they believe in you…And that makes you feel like you can do it!”
Every one of the students was able to clearly state their career interest(s) and what makes them interested in their choice(s). Another student proudly told me about her ten point grade increase in one of her classes. “This group gave me the motivation!”
“It would be great if we could meet every day,” one student pronounced after Kalinsky asked the students for their suggestions for next year. “I wish we could do that,” Kalinsky replied. “It’s all about available funding.” Hmmm…But can we afford to not make the SUCCESS TEAM (and other programs like it) available to all those students who seek out all that they offer?!
– Marsha Lazarus, MBA, Director of Workforce Development
The Community Mental Health Promotion (CMHP) program is run by MHANYS to county-level MHA affiliate teams. To learn more visit our Programs & Projects page.