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Teen-Led Mental Health Summit Empowers Florida Youth To Advocate For Their Well-Being

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More than ever, kids and teens are making their mental health a priority. They’re honest about their experiences and serious about self-care. But most importantly, they know they’re not alone. 

These beliefs are what inspired teens at Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties to take mental health advocacy into their own hands – by hosting a statewide summit for Florida teens to draw knowledge and strength as part of a larger community.

Hosted at the Lee Wetherington Boys & Girls Club, the 2023 Mental Health Summit was the brainchild of the Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Clubs’ Youth Council – a group of teens dedicated to making a difference in the social issues they care about. The summit served as their Youth Voice & Advocacy Project sponsored by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Family Dollar and the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation.

Youth Council member Nathan W. kicked off the summit, welcoming more than 80 teens, mentors and mental health professionals excited for the eight hours of learning that lay ahead.

“I grew up in a household where talking about mental health wasn’t discouraged, yet it wasn’t actively encouraged either,” Nathan said. “Upon joining my Boys & Girls Club, I found a place where engaging in open and honest conversations about mental health felt safe; it allowed me to realize that my experiences are not uncommon.”

Nathan is not alone in his experiences. “As someone who lives in a generally quiet, single-parent household, mental health was rarely a topic of discussion, despite several close family members grappling with mental health challenges,” said Daria T., another member of Youth Council. “At our summit, I was able to engage in impactful conversations with my peers about mental health, and it was within this supportive environment that I felt a sense of understanding and connection.” 

The summit began with teens hearing from mental health professionals and engaging in workshops on topics like brain development, mindfulness and coping skills to combat stress, substance abuse and suicide ideation. 

“Dr. Sarah Watamura’s discussion on brain development and its connection to mental health was particularly insightful,” said Nathan. “She shed light on the relationship between biological and physiological processes and our well-being. I learned so much from her session!”

“Another highlight was the Substance Abuse Prevention workshop. Hearing ‘textbook’ psychological processes made me more empathetic and understanding of individuals who may be struggling with addiction.”

From there, teens leaned into advocacy by drafting mental health-related policies and honing persuasive skills to communicate with legislators. They also learned how to get involved in civic affairs from Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Government Relations leaders, Amy Becker and Ashley Kaiser.

Teens built upon what they learned by brainstorming ways to destigmatize mental health in small groups, such as stronger education in schools, identifying coping skills for anxiety and fostering open conversations around suicide prevention. 

“One of the most powerful moments of the summit was the group discussion we engaged in    alongside peers from across the state,” said Nathan. “Together, we developed solutions to the most pressing issues surrounding mental health, both within and outside school settings.”

At the end of the summit, teens shared their ideas, along with their newfound knowledge and actionable next steps, leaving empowered to navigate mental health challenges and become passionate advocates for change.

“I genuinely believe that this summit, without exaggeration, was life-changing,” said Nathan. “Engaging in advocacy initiatives like our summit serves as a catalyst, affirming that we as youth can take charge of our well-being, and with motivation and purpose, we can make a difference.”

“Through the support of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, and committed partners like Family Dollar and the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, we have achieved far more than we ever thought possible,” said Daria. “Organizations that empower youth voices and foster our ability to ‘do more’ help to unleash our full potential.”

Family Dollar partners with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to empower young people to act on behalf of themselves and others to further a cause they believe in. Through BGCA’s Think, Learn, Create Change program, Family Dollar invests in programs and resources that teach youth how to be self-advocates, fostering leadership skills and advocacy opportunities to create social change in their communities, state and country. Learn more about Family Dollar and Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s commitment to younger generations. 

Navigating Mental Health Challenges with Youth

Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides youth mentorship, mental health services and meaningful life experiences that boost youth self-esteem, build confidence and contribute to healthy mental, emotional and physical well-being. Find a Club near you or sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest resources and stories.

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