Bridging the Gap

TransitionsIt is Gary Weinstein's belief that there is a gap between the needs of youth struggling with emotional distress and the resources available to them at their schools. And he's hoping a grant from the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend Teens for Tomorrow Program will help fill in some of those needs.

"It's a response to the understanding that there are so many kids struggling with emotional distress and emotional disorders," Weinstein, the CEO of Transitions Mental Health Services in Rock Island, said.

Oftentimes, teachers, administrators and school counselors are not equipped to provide students with all the help they need, he said. "Even with the best of intentions, they don't have the background to know what to say or do," he said.

That's where Transitions comes in.

The Teens for Tomorrow Grant earlier this year provided $2500 to train school staff members, from kindergarten through high school, to better identify emotional distress in students, know how to interact with the student and then know where to direct them to get help. "Ultimately, this is so the many kids who are really struggling can live their lives and not be plagued with tremendous stress," he said.

Students who bear the weight of emotional disorders or stress can have low self-esteem, Weinstein said, and it oftentimes affects their school work and their relationship with those around them. And there seem to be more and more youth struggling. "We're getting more and more calls," he said, "and we're seeing a lot of kids now with issues that stem from events at home or elsewhere."

The grant will be most effective this fall, he said, when students return to school. The grant is important because there are very few state-funded initiatives to assist students and Medicaid funding cannot be used for the training of staff at schools. "There's this gap in the funding."

The grant is also special, he added, because it was teens who decided that the cause was worthy. The Teens for Tomorrow Program provides students the opportunity to walk through the grantmaking process alongside Community Foundation staff. The students learn about community needs, develop a grant opportunity, evaluate applications, make site visits, and ultimately award the grants.

"It's exciting," Weinstein said. "When we met with the Teens for Tomorrow committee, this seemed to resonate with them and make sense to them."

The experience was also memorable, he said, because of the opportunity to work with T4T Member Elizabeth Moore, who later partnered with him to organize a political advocacy workshop where a group of youth sat down with local leaders to discuss better ways to effectively advocate for change in the state. "It was a great group of students," he said. "I hope that we helped teach them that you don't have to be an expert to be involved. It's a really exciting thing."

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