First-of-its-kind Youth Mental Health Corps trains young people to help their peers

On NBC News, Raul A. Reyes has this story on a new initiative, funded in part by AmeriCorps, that aims to train and place young peer workers in their communities in an effort to meet youths where they are, particularly in underserved populations: 

“Growing up in Philadelphia, Nancy Santiago lived in what she described as ‘tough circumstances, with an outrageous situation on my hands. And every time I went to ask for help, there was none.’

Her drug-addicted father was abusive, while her grandmother ran a speakeasy to help support the family. When Santiago had problems, her evangelical relatives told her to ‘pray on it.’

Yet her challenging upbringing led her into a career in education, philanthropy and public service, including positions at the Department of Education and the Department of Labor under President Barack Obama and more recently at the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy under President Joe Biden.

It was there that Santiago, reflecting on her own experiences, began thinking about young people and mental health. . . . Now Santiago has helped create the Youth Mental Health Corps, a first-of-its-kind initiative that will launch this fall, initially in four states, to address the country’s youth mental health crisis. This innovative program will recruit young volunteers to work in assisting other youngsters who are struggling with mental health issues. The volunteers who sign up will receive training and also a state-specific credential in the behavioral health field.

Corps members will work for a year (or two, if they choose) with schools, community organizations or nonprofits, aiming to connect other young people to mental health support. They will also receive a living stipend for their work.”

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