Teen Mental Health Collaborative Members Engage with Legislators

The Teen Mental Health Collaborative met at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill. Pictured (left to right): Front row: Michelle Thomas, Mentoring Partnership; Rep. Emily Kinkead; Sarah Pesi, Jewish Healthcare Foundation. Back row: Alexis Trbovich, field representative for Sen. Devlin Robinson; Sara Nevels, Gwen's Girls; Hersh Merenstein, Boys & Girls Club; Kara Petrosky, Boys & Girls Club; Rep. Martell Covington; Marritta Gillcrease, Center of Life; Sophia Duck, Mentoring Partnership; Ally Weekly, Friendship Circle; Kenneth Aquiline, district director for Rep. Sara Innamorato; Kiyomi Knox, Center of Life.

On May 26, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) convened members of the Teen Mental Health Collaborative for the second in-person meeting of 2022. Attendees had the opportunity to share and network with Collaborative participants and elected officials, define the focus of Collaborative's working groups, and identify opportunities for shared advocacy with elected officials.

The Out of School Time, Training, and Advocacy Working Groups provided report-outs during the meeting. These included a presentation on the Mentoring Partnership Peer Mentoring Webinar and a discussion of the Pennsylvania Governor's race.

Collaborative members had the opportunity to share their efforts and challenges during a Community Concerns Listening Session with Legislators. Participating legislators included Sen. Jay Costa, District 43; Rep. Emily Kinkead, District 20; Rep. Dan Frankel, District 23; and Rep. Martell Covington, District 24. Participating legislative staff were Cheryl Kleiman, legislative director and executive director of Senate Education Committee, Office of Sen. Lindsey M. Williams; Ken Aquiline district director, Office of Rep. Sara Innamorato, District 21; Alexis Trbovich, field representative, Office of Sen. Devlin J. Robinson, District 37, and James Scott, legislative aide, Office of Rep. Valerie Gaydos, District 44.

Participants had the opportunity to participate in informal lunch conversations between legislators and community organizations to brainstorm solutions. Discussions centered on funding for out-of-school time; developing school partnerships; education regulations; training and investments in peer supports; connecting systems within state government (teen mental health is covered by numerous umbrellas in the state budget); and the role of community organizations to promote mental health and address barriers to access to services.

The session concluded with a discussion of plans for summer activities and advocacy opportunities. The convening was a chance for legislators and community organizations to come together and drive solutions. This was just the beginning of the conversation, and at the conclusion of the session the legislators were eager to take action on the next steps to implement some of the solutions.

In 2020, JHF initiated the Collaborative to facilitate opportunities for youth-serving organizations to share their approaches to providing emotional support, connection, and engagement for teens and to learn from one another. The youth-driven programs used various approaches, including expressive arts, podcasts, and peer support, to create environments in which teens can build resiliency, leadership skills, and new relationships to guide themselves and others through the pandemic. The Collaborative provides organizations with trainings and opportunities to share program ideas and expertise. 

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