From Crisis to Courage

Nov. 9, 2023

“I’ve got to talk to you,” I overheard our 3rd grade teacher, Nilsa Gonzalez ask our Wellness Director, Jessica Shinn. “Can I get a couple more balance birds for my class?”

Balance birds are small colorful plastic birds that have weight in their beaks so that the full bird can balance just on its beak. It’s a simple tool that can reduce stress and support focus.

Nilsa continued enthusiastically, “My kids LOVE them. And, oh my gosh, Tyler was having a hard time focusing. He needed to step away from the class a lot to self-regulate in the quiet corner, but he was away from the class a lot. Then, he tried the balance bird during math and just putting that bird on his finger was all he needed to stay at his seat and pay attention.”

We love when something as simple as a $2 balance bird can help a teacher accomplish her goals in the classroom. But often, the challenges are far more complex.

That’s why UrbanPromise closed the ministry for an entire day in 2022 for Mental Health First Aid Training. All staff—from teachers, to program teams, and administrators—were required to attend so they could learn to recognize the signs of youth in crisis and know how to best support them.

Since then, staff have been of greater support to young people, families, and to each other. Our StreetLeader team implemented a portion of this training with summer StreetLeaders. Our teens learned to identify red flags, how to respond, and who to talk to when help was needed.

When one StreetLeader was experiencing a mental health crisis, two peers went immediately to their Director, Tony Vega who called on our Wellness team in to help support the StreetLeader and their family. With the care and support of the UrbanPromise community, this young person had the courage to trust others and obtain critical support. Help like this can be life-saving!

“The thing is the training is good, but it’s effective because of the trust and relationships we build with our teens. They feel safe with us and know they can come to us with anything. When they know someone needs help, they instinctively act to support each other.” shared Tony Vega our StreetLeader Program Director.

Wellness, also referred to as holism at UrbanPromise, is one of our core values. As we work with young people from Camden, where the rate of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) far exceeds national averages, supporting holistic health is not optional, it is foundational for empowering our youth, building on their strength and resilience to help them along their journey of healing.

We want to continue this important work and build the “toolkits” for teachers, program staff, and youth. We’re asking for your help! Below are some of the key initiatives we’d like to implement in 2023-24.

  • 1:1 teacher support: $35
  • Weekly wellness class for students: $85
  • Counseling session for a student: $115
  • Girls Empowerment Group session: $250
  • Classroom tools & activities: $435
  • All day staff training: $1,825

Thank you for partnering with us in this important work,

Andy Joshua
Vice President of Schools and Programs