History of the Coalition
The HOPE Coalition was formed in October 2000 with the following mission:
To reduce youth violence and substance use, and promote positive adolescent mental health and youth voice in Worcester through a youth-adult partnership.
Being youth-driven has always been core to the Coalition’s values. As such, Laurie Ross’s first task as Coalition Director was to recruit Peer Leaders from the Coalition’s 18 partner organizations. By January 2001, HOPE had a peer leadership program consisting of a diverse group of 15 high school aged youth. Coalition adults and peer leaders participated in Youth on Boards training to learn how to work in partnership with each other. Peer Leaders also received training in data gathering and analysis. The Peer Leaders’ first initiative was to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment with young people in Worcester. The Peer Leaders collected hundreds of surveys and conducted dozens of one to one interviews with their peers. After collating preliminary results, they held a series of Youth Speak Outs that attracted well over 100 young people to have deeper conversations about the main findings of the needs assessment. The top issues included concerns about violence, teen sexuality, stress and depression, and concerns about the future.
We then held workshops on each of these top issues. Karen Penta, then with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC), facilitated the workshop on stress and depression. What we learned from the workshop was that young people face many barriers to access mental health services such as stigma, transportation, insurance, and general dislike of the clinical environment in traditional mental health offices.
Concerned by what the young people were discussing, the Coalition convened the HOPE Adolescent Mental Health Task Force consisting of over 25 providers from private, non-profit mental health agencies, community based health centers, youth programs, schools, and state departments during 2001-2002. The Task Force identified the following issues to working with adolescents—many of which helped to explain the young people’s experience: Inadequate crisis intervention services, Lack of follow-through on referrals; Need more prevention programs that help youth avoid crises by building their coping skills; A shortage of bilingual and bicultural clinicians; People in non-clinical settings lacked skills to identify and make appropriate referrals; Medicaid reimbursement categories are barriers to providing adolescents with appropriate and effective prevention and intervention programs.
The HOPE Peer Leaders—based on their experiences and the findings of the Task Force—began to envision a different way to get mental health support. They wanted the help they need to be in the places they would go anyway—not a place known to be where you go “when you have problems”. They wanted to go places that had young staff who came from similar backgrounds that they did—but who also had expertise to help them with more serious problems. They wanted service on demand, particularly when they were experiencing a crisis. We realized places like this existed in Worcester—youth centers, Boys and Girls Club, etc. We needed a way to bring the mental health support to the young people rather than making them overcome the many barriers in the system. Thus, the HOPE Mental Health Model was created based on these two sets of conversations with youth and providers (more on the Model below).
In addition to serving hundreds of young people each year through the Mental Health Model, HOPE’s major accomplishments over the past three years include:
- The Peer Leaders’ successful campaign to revise the city’s tobacco ordinance to ban the sale of tobacco from pharmacies in Worcester (a 10% reduction in stores that sell tobacco).
- Peer Leaders developed an underage drinking prevention social norms campaign at North High, which resulted in young people changing their perception about the number of young people who drink and reducing the number of youth who drink frequently at North. The Peer Leaders also created a PSA on underage drinking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4SAM4gyuA4
- Peer Leaders developed a video called My Chance at Success on the struggles young people face when they don’t get support to achieve their goals. We have conducted over a dozen showings to over 200 people over the past six months. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF_NahIRenI
Each of these projects speaks to our work educating and raising community awareness about issues facing young people.