Help Celebrate Three Years of ReachOut!
Happy birthday to us! March marked the third anniversary of ReachOut.com, and Inspire USA is thrilled to be celebrating with the upcoming launch of three new California-based initiatives with CalMHSA, the expansion of our team and the continuing growth in youth-generated traffic to the ReachOut.com site with a 33% increase in total unique visitors between our second and third year. From March 2012 to March 2013, nearly 1.5 million teens and young adults have visited ReachOut.com (up almost 500,000 from the year before), with 166,116 visitors from California alone!
As we continue to take strides towards connecting with youth in need, and empowering those with an inspiring story to share, we look forward to deepening our impact and furthering our reach in the year ahead. We could not have accomplished so much without your ongoing support. Help us continue our U.S. expansion by making a donation at GlobalGiving today. A small gift can go a long way!
CalMHSA Funds Three RO Initiatives in 2013 by Meredith Sires, Web Editor
Three years after the launch of ReachOut.com, Inspire USA continues to seek out new and increasingly innovative ways to help teens and young adults help each other through tough times. This month, with funding from the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), we are excited to announce a trio of California-based initiatives that will expand both the reach of our peer-to-peer support as well as the scope of our youth-driven content.
Spurred by the success of the peer-facilitated discussions held in the ReachOut Forums, this spring Director of Youth Engagement Emily O'Brien will oversee the recruitment and training of 45 additional peer supporters. These new recruits will join the current team of ten in their ongoing efforts to create a safe and supportive online environment for young people in need. By spending time in the forums, ReachOut seeks to ultimately help decrease the attitudes of stigma that often surround mental health issues.
In addition to increasing our capacity to provide real-time peer support on the web, ReachOut will also do so via mobile platforms. Set to launch this summer, our text messaging support line will allow teens to send their questions and concerns to trained peer responders who will provide supportive and informative answers at designated times. Issues raised by text will not only inform the nature of individual responses, but also will have the potential to influence the range of topics covered on ReachOut.com.
ReachOut similarly plans to diversify our online content with a new project specifically focused on LGBTQ issues. Eight LGBTQ young people, recruited with the help of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) network and trained by Web Editor Meredith Sires, will assess gaps in current content and create new content by and for the LGBTQ community. The mix of personal stories and reliable information will be presented in a variety of formats based on the direction of the content developers, but whatever the form, we look forward to the breadth and depth they will provide.
Stay tuned for more developments on all three fronts! And if you know any young people in California with a passion for helping others, encourage them to get involved with ReachOut today!
Inspire USA Welcomes ReachOut CA Director by Meredith Sires, Web Editor
Spring is a very exciting and eventful time here at Inspire USA. Along with celebrating three years of ReachOut.com helping teens and young adults lead healthier and happier lives, we're also welcoming Nicola Survanshi into the fold in the newly created role of ReachOut California Director. Nicola joins us as a member of the Inspire leadership team with overall oversight of ReachOut in California and we are absolutely thrilled to have her on board! Below are a few words from Nicola to you:
Dear Inspire USA Fans,
I am very excited to join the team and be a champion for ReachOut as it grows and helps more and more youth get through tough times. I have a strong belief that online resources and mobile technology can be powerful tools in improving the lives of teens and young adults. I began my career in the U.S. Air Force as an Intelligence Officer, stationed at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. Later, I realized my passion for public health and enrolled at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, graduating with an MPH in 2012.
During my time at Columbia, I had the opportunity to develop a communications strategy with Ascel Bio, a disease forecasting start-up. I also joined in a research project under the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar program, investigating the use of text messaging in community empowerment and health.
Discoveries from my research sparked the concept for my thesis on the role of text messaging in mental health literacy and help-seeking with adolescents. Inspire USA's mission and ReachOut's platform seemed like a perfect fit for my background and interests in providing easy access to mental health information and support.
With Inspire USA rolling out several new projects to broaden ReachOut's scope of services, I feel that I am joining at a very opportune time! This year ReachOut plans to develop three California-based initiatives, including a text messaging support line that aligns neatly with the thrust of my thesis. Starting this summer, teens will be able to text their questions or issues to ReachOut and get answers from peer responders on designated days and times. ReachOut also plans to launch a project creating new content by and for the LGBTQ youth. In addition, ReachOut will expand its corps of Peer Supporters, to provide even more engagement and encouragement to users in the forums. I look forward to an epic year ahead with ReachOut!
ReachOut Forums Launch 'Ask the Expert' by Cosette Paneque, ReachOut Forums Community Manager
We've all got questions we'd like answered, but sometimes we don't know where to look, are too embarrassed to ask, or don't think there is anyone who can help. At ReachOut, we're committed to creating a safe space where young people can ask those questions and find reliable answers.
Last month, the ReachOut Forums introduced the "Ask the Expert" sessions. This is a special event where we ask a mental health professional to join us and talk about an array of tough issues. This could be a psychologist, counselor, youth worker, or another type of specialist worker.
The topic of our first "Ask the Expert" session was Overcoming Depression and Thoughts of Self-Harm. We were fortunate to have Dr. Dan Reidenberg. Dan is the Executive Director of SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), a national nonprofit agency working to prevent suicide and help suicide survivors and people suffering from brain illnesses. Dan is a psychologist who has received numerous awards for his accomplishments and service in the field of mental health and recently was recognized as a "Champion of Change" at The White House by the Obama Administration.
For a week, ReachOut forum members posted their questions. They asked about coping strategies, how to help friends when they are depressed and suicidal, and how to deal with negative thoughts. Dan answered every question with great care and consideration. The session was a great success.
We hope to have a guest expert join us in the forums to run an "Ask the Expert" session every few months. Our experts won't give simple answers, but they will provide the information, suggestions, and guidance, so that young people can decide what's best for them!
by Meredith Sires, Web Editor
With over 3,000 forum members and nearly 150,000 unique visitors to ReachOut.com in January 2013 alone, Inspire USA understands the importance of connecting youth in crisis to the resources they need. Boys Town, a support service available by phone at 1-800-448-3000 and online at yourlifeyourvoice.org 24 hours a day seven days a week, has remained a powerful partner in helping us achieve that goal.
Both in the ReachOut forums and throughout the site, comments have testified to the power of the tandem support provided by ReachOut and Boys Town. "I got off the phone with them a few minutes ago, and it really helped. I did feel sorta awkward at first, but they make it to where you actually feel comfortable. " “Something important about a stranger trying to help is that they will be completely honest with you. They purely are there for that one purpose and that is to help you realize that life is precious with obstacles that everyone has to overcome.” “Well, just know that on here you are never alone. Everyone on here is here to help you get through whatever it is that you’re going through and if we can’t help, or you feel it’s not enough, you can always give Boys Town a call.” “Please do not feel that you are not cared about. There are people who care about you and your life, even complete strangers. I would consider calling the Boys Town Hotline that was suggested to you.” “This service is very good. I’m on my way to a better and healthier life.”
In 2012, along with continuing to support the teens and young adults referred by ReachOut.com, Boys Town worked closely with our moderation team to develop a protocol for troubled forum users. The system allowed the community to flourish as moderators, Peer Supporters and members echoed and reinforced positive help-seeking messages.Year-end data from Boys Town reflected these signs of success as well showing over 2,600 visits directed from ReachOut to Boys Town’s yourlifeyourvoice.org, along with 282 emails that made mention of ReachOut.
by Meredith Sires, Web Editor
In an effort to reach rural communities and transition-aged youth, CalMHSA contractors, Inspire USA and Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn (RS&E), presented an informational webinar about ReachOutHere.com to the California Community Colleges. The webinar was attended by community college administrators, faculty and staff. Presenters included Scott Rose, RS&E principal; Susan Keys, Inspire USA special advisor on mental health; and Daniel Caldera, ReachOutHere.com peer supporter and community college student.
The 90-minute webinar covered an introduction to the Stigma and Discrimination Reduction campaign, the history and impetus for ReachOutHere.com and a live tutorial on how to utilize ReachOutHere.com. ReachOutHere promotional materials can now be downloaded by California Community Colleges to distribute on their own. As a follow up to the webinar, RS&E, Inspire USA and Daniel will present a second live webinar in late February.Please visit the following link to view the ReachOutHere.com http://cccstudentmentalhealth.org/webinars/past_webinars.php
by Emily O'Brien, Youth Programs DirectorSinger and ReachOut Youth Council Member Meredith O’Conner is doing her part to stomp out bullying one song at a time! Next month, Meredith and friends will be holding a fundraiser to "Strike Out Bullying" at the Baldwin Bowling Alley in Albany, New York. Along with spreading her powerful anti-bullying message with songs like "The Game," Meredith will also be donating half the proceeds from the event to ReachOut.com! Just another reason we're grateful for passionate Youth Council Members like Meredith, who also raised awareness for ReachOut during downtime at her most recent photo shoot with a PSA she made with her friends on YouTube.
On November 29, Youth Programs Manager Emily O’Brien visited Project WHAT! in Oakland. Led by youth who have had a parent incarcerated, Project WHAT! (an acronym for We're Here and Talking) is an educational social justice organization that raises awareness around issues experienced by children of incarcerated parents with the long term goal of improving the services, policies and outcomes that affect these children.Emily led an interactive discussion session on how mental iIllness, particularly PTSD, can affect young people and what steps they can take to help themselves and their peers cope with stressful events. The group was encouraged to use ReachOut as a resource, and join the conversation around dealing with tough times in the new ReachOut forums. In the new year, Emily hopes to work more with Project WHAT! youth advocates to develop ReachOut resources specifically targeted towards children of incarcerated parents, but we need your help to make it happen! If you wish to support this effort to expand our scope and help this underserved population of young people, please make a small financial contribution today.
My name is Stephanie Castillo. I’m a journalism student in my junior year in college. Although I never worked on a newspaper in high school, I always appreciated the outlet journalism had to offer. Journalism teaches you to communicate effectively and clearly. This was something I had a lot of trouble doing when I was younger. I kept a lot of things bottled up inside and was often overwhelmed with emotion. That's also what drew me to Inspire.I'm very excited to work for an organization that helps people open up without feeling stigmatized for seeking help. I know from my experience that's one of the best ways to avoid feeling alienated. By reaching out you can build a community of people who care, support and ultimately inspire each other to grow and change. I want to encourage young people to take that step. I want to learn to listen and help foster a community that understands that the power to change comes from within. I'm excited to do that during my time at Inspire by helping develop fact sheets, work on the forums and more.
Last month, the Getting Real Sessions made their debut on the ReachOut Forums. For Bullying Awareness Week, the first live chat session in the series explored bullying - what it is, how we experience it, and what we can do about it. The conversation on bullying continued long after the live chat session was over. It was such a success that we're going to do it again this month! Suggestions for chat topics are pouring in.At the ReachOut Forums, our community is growing by leaps and bounds. New members sign up everyday seeking and offering help for the challenging issues facing teens and young adults. And when they need to take a break, they can head over to the Lounge, a place to relax and chat casually, share inspiring stories, and play games.
We look forward to an extra boost in Southern California members this month with ReachOut Forums making headlines in the November - December edition of L.A. Youth magazine! In the latest issue of the Los Angeles-based youth-run publication, Peer Supporter Eric Whitt shares his experiences of working on the ReachOut Forums, "I’m here to listen." Check it out online now!
To help those with big hearts get an even bigger jolt of the warm fuzzies this holiday season, charity fundraising web site GlobalGiving.org is launching its Recurring Donation Campaign for December. Throughout the month, GlobalGiving will match all new recurring donations up to $100 per donor! Plus, $500 bonus awards will go to the top five projects with the most recurring donors in December. To support Inspire USA and the multitudes of teens and young adults we help though tough times, find out more here.
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As I sat on the San Francisco BART, making my way through the big and foreign city, I started to feel anxious about meeting the other ReachOut Peer Supporters. We all met about six months ago, but a lot had happened in those six months. I became nervous and began to wonder things like how odd the awkward silence would be when we all came together.
I was suddenly shaken out of my nervousness by the sound of excited footsteps and laughter outside my hotel room. I peeked into the hallway and saw a couple of the peer supporters. One of them saw me and ran to greet me as if we were best friends that had only been apart for about a day or two. If you are shy or anxious (in my case), you only need to spend a couple of minutes with the other peer supporters to find that you are actually very laid back and open. It’s as if their friendliness and their acceptance bring out the best in you, just the same way in which they bring out the best of the forum community members. During the “strategy” meetings, everyone perked up and provided input. At one point we even had a very friendly debate to decide between two strategies to make the forums a better place. As the peer supporters constructed arguments and defended their stance with such passion, I saw how committed they are to this cause. Their intentions are so sincere that they eagerly gave up a Sunday of sightseeing to participate in the Out of the Darkness suicide awareness walk (pictured here), all to support a fellow ReachOut member whom the majority of the peer supporters had not even met. I’ve often wondered why the ReachOut forums have expanded so quickly and successfully in such a short amount of time. Some of the factors I’ve often played with include vast funds (which I recently found out are quite modest), extremely skilled staff, and even the color scheme of the website. But as I looked at all the peer supporters and staff bunched up together, laughing and chanting phrases of support, I realized that it is truly the people behind ReachOut, with their bright spirits and playful compassion, that make this initiative so successful and so heartfelt. Support for the ReachOut Forums Provided By: The Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Consortium is a component of The Strategies for a Supportive program, funded by the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention Initiatives implemented by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA operates services and education programs on a statewide, regional and local basis. For more information, visit www.calmhsa.org.
by Brandon Rohlwing, Youth Council Member
On September 9, hundreds of people gathered at Living Waters Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake, IL to witness the creation of some amazing art for a great cause. In honor of the church's annual Rally Day event, Elliot from ArtBeat Live performed to raise funds for the Inspire USA Foundation.
In his short act, Elliot combines great music with his unique talents as a painter to produce a very entertaining show that results in beautiful art all made in about 10 minutes. After the church first booked him, they decided the two paintings he made should be auctioned off for a charity. Living Waters unanimously chose Inspire USA's ReachOut.com because of the great impact it has had on the church's youth.
I'm so glad that I was able to attend this event because it was very inspiring. Elliot's ability to take paintbrushes, dip them in buckets of paint, and then slap them on to a canvas to create a wonderful piece of art in under ten minutes is truly amazing. It was also wonderful to see the community members sharing positive messages of hope with each other as they gathered around the info table for ReachOut, collecting "swag" to distribute to the young people in their lives.
Possibly the most inspiring part of the day, however, was the generosity of those bidding on the paintings. With the attendees knowing how important ReachOut is to the community, the bids came one after another. In the end, the two paintings went for a combined $1,525. Overall, the fundraiser was a great success for the church, community, and ReachOut.
by Daniel Caldera, ReachOut Peer Supporter
This past summer as a peer supporter I had the privilege of attending San Diego City College's Passport to Life expo. The event was aimed at young people between the ages of 11-24 who are, or were, on probation. The event was started as a transitional tool to help candidates gain empowering life skills in order to have a steady transition into adulthood.
I attended the event to get the word out about ReachOut. My initial impression when I stepped on to the campus and ventured into the event area was that there might not be much interest in the "ReachOut services." Oh, but how mistaken I was.
I had forgotten the impact of having a conversation with an unbiased person, or the rejuvenating potential of having a place to express oneself anonymously without being judged. I explained to participants what our site and more specifically the forums are all about. I explained that the forums hosted a wide array of discussion topics, including general topics that did not necessarily relate to mental health issues. To my surprise, youth responded with great interest. At certain points I even got to pull out my handy dandy Kindle to showcase some of the features on the site, including our renowned fact sheets and personal stories. If I had anticipated the amount of young people and parents interested, I would have definitely requested more promotional materials! All in all, I learned no matter what type of situation someone is in a helping hand, or shall we say a set of listening ears is always appreciated.
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This past month, communications agency Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn (RS&E) launched a Spanish -language campaign inviting Latino youth in California to join the new moderated forums on ReachOut.com. The ad campaign and ReachOut forums are sponsored by the CalMHSA (California Mental Health Services Authority).
The debut of targeted radio, online and print advertisements (see example above) across various Spanish-language media channels coincided with the introduction of bilingual threads in the forums. These discussions, supervised by Spanish-speaking moderator Pete Chico and guided by native-speaking peer facilitators Esteban Rivas, Humberto Zepeda, Roberto De La Pena, Daniel Caldera, and Brianda Alanis are part of a larger effort by CalMHSA, RS&E and ReachOut.com to help bilingual youth get through tough times with the help of their peers. In that same spirit, peer leaders Humberto and Esteban, along with two friends of Esteban, also lent their voice to the Spanish radio spot ads developed by RS&E.With Latinos comprising more than half (51%) of the youth population in California, according to the 2010 census, CalMHSA, Inspire and RS&E recognize the importance of supporting the many teens and young adults in this community. By welcoming all young Californians ages 14 to 24 into the forums, ReachOut seeks to create a safe, anonymous peer-to-peer community for young people of all backgrounds. Support for the ReachOut Forums Provided By: The Stigma and Discrimination Reduction Consortium is a component of The Strategies for a Supportive program, funded by the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention Initiatives implemented by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA operates services and education programs on a statewide, regional and local basis. For more information, visit www.calmhsa.org.
Youth Council Spotlight on Amy Grassel
by Emily O'Brien, Youth Programs Director
Amy Grassel, one of our first and founding Youth Council Members recently celebrated her 25th Birthday and her 5 year anniversary as a volunteer for ReachOut! To further her ongoing commitment to our mission, Amy will be advancing to an Alum position with ReachOut. The Youth Council plays a vital role in the development and success of ReachOut and we are thrilled and fortunate to keep Amy on the team! Here is a brief snapshot of Amy’s time with us... After interning as a web editor at Inspire Australia when she was studying abroad in 2008, Amy was eager to help with the USA launch. Upon returning to her hometown of New York, Amy joined Inspire USA as a contributing youth editor while ReachOut USA was still getting off the ground. Amy’s passion to help others and share the lessons of her life experiences led her to develop fact sheets on; breaking bad habits, amphetamines, college orientation, myths about college, inhalants ("Huffing"), adoption, peer pressure, relaxation, preparing for parenthood, and spring break. She also edited a number of other fact sheets and wrote blog entries on connecting with nature, Christmas blues, and teen pregnancy. Now, five years later, Amy continues to be an active Youth Council Member for ReachOut. Each week she provides peer-to-peer support to young people on MeetMe.com. Amy is also a member of the online Well-being Advisory Group and jumps at the opportunity to provide feedback to ensure that ReachOut remains youth- relevant. When asked what she likes about working for ReachOut, Amy says, “I love working with a team- a group of inspiring, kind, and creative people all committed to helping others.” Amy has a strong and positive work ethic and is satisfied by knowing she has helped someone get through a tough time. She says, “Comments and stories from teens help us see that what we are working towards does matter.” Amy remembers some of her highlights as a Council member, “I really enjoyed working the booth at the Bonnaroo music festival- directly spreading the word about our site to tons of young people, who were willing to listen and help spread the word also!” Another highlight she recalls is the “Youth Council summit in 2011, meeting my fellow council members from across the country, all being together in one (beautiful!) place, discussing ideas and inspiring one another.” Thank you, Amy, for being a part of the ReachOut crew! Oh, and a BIG Happy Birthday!
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