July 21, 2021

NAMI San Diego Takes Social Justice Approach to Youth Empowerment 

Karen Lenyoun, Program Manager, NAMI San Diego

NAMI San Diego launched an amazing youth project at the beginning of 2021 funded by Elevate Youth California-a program of the California Department of Health Care Services. The project uses a social justice youth development approach to teach middle school, high school, and transitional aged youth about self-leadership principles based on the social emotional learning competencies. Through 5 one-hour interactive sessions, students learn how to challenge their assumed constraints, activate their points of power, and develop SMART goals. Additionally, the youth learn about policy change and youth empowerment through community and stakeholder engagement.

Since January, 13 cohorts have been scheduled throughout the county concentrating on underserved populations including (but not limited to) foster and former foster youth, justice involved youth, homeless, LGBTQI+, youth of color, and Latinx youth. To date, approximately 220 youth have attended these sessions. 

“This leadership program has helped me in a variety of ways and has given me knowledge that I can now use in the future,” said a participant in the Student Self Leadership training. “Throughout these past sessions I have learned how to accurately identify my own restraints (constraints) and how to work around them, how to ask for help, and how to build relationships with others and so much more. I'm truly thankful that you used your knowledge power to teach me and I am excited to use this newfound knowledge in my everyday life.” 

Changes in their pre- and post-assessment scores showed improvement in the student's understanding of key concepts such as assumed constraints, what it means to be proactive, and mindset and skill set of a self-leader. The average pre-survey score was 51%, but by the time the students completed the last module of the program, their average score on the post-survey had risen to 82%, with 90% understanding what a SMART goal is and 97% reporting that they had written a smart goal for themselves. As a result of taking the training, 92% totally or mostly agreed that they were better prepared as self-leaders and 100% totally or mostly agreed that they would recommend the training to other students. 

Changes in their pre- and post-assessment scores also showed significant improvements on several social emotional learning levels. There was a 30% increase in their ability to enthusiastically take on the challenge of new or difficult tasks; an 18% increase in their ability to organize assignments before starting them; a 10% increase in their ability to stay focused on a job until complete; and a 16% increase in their ability to easily admit when they've made a mistake. 

“I joined the ZOOM and immediately loved the lessons,” stated another participant. “I kind of had this vague perception of how to be proactive and a self-reliant leader. They were no longer vague concepts when I was with skilled leaders that could explain how to challenge assumed constraints extremely well. These concepts became more descriptive, more understandable. I had people my age I could relate to and if I didn't relate to them, I learned a new point of view...I loved this journey!”

Additionally, this program offered youth mental health awareness and suicide prevention presentations. To date, approximately 141 individuals have attended.  

Finally, with the record number of fentanyl overdose deaths experienced in San Diego County this year we partnered with A New Path to teach about the life saving overdose reversal medication, Naloxone. So far, 44 individuals have been trained and at least one life saved as a result of this training! The goal is to expand access to Naloxone by providing training to school staff and nurses on every campus in San Diego County. 

Learn more about the Elevate Youth Program at NAMI San Diego.