By Angie Ceranski, Women’s Fund Volunteer
The Women’s Fund’s Girls’ Grantmaking Project (GGP) gathers area high school girls each spring to participate in a leadership training, community education and grantmaking program.
Last March, 17 participants from Freedom, Little Chute, Kaukauna and Kimberly high schools gathered in person for day one of the program. After setting the stage for an environment of sharing, the girls learned about the Women’s Fund and the concept of philanthropy. Sessions focused on leadership communication and social change paved the way for discussions about current issues important to the girls and their peers, as well as where they envision having the greatest impact with $10,000 in grant funding.
“We talked about issues we were going through and things we could help people with. We started talking about some traumatic things that have happened in our lives. Domestic abuse, sexual assault and self-harm were all thrown around,” says participating Kimberly High School student Alix Hoesli. “We wanted to help all the people experiencing trauma, so we figured mental health would be the best way to support them.”
The girls looked to use their grant money to provide training, education and resources to better prepare high school students, school personnel and others to offer support to students experiencing mental health challenges.
As the first session ended, the group established their grantmaking plan to be carried out on day two of the program. The plan, which included evaluation criteria, application review, interviews and a final grant award decision, was carried out virtually due to the pandemic.
The girls awarded $10,000 in grant funding to the following two agencies:
N.E.W. Mental Health Connection – Healthy Teen Minds, $4,000
The GGP provided funding to the N.E.W. Mental Health Connection’s Healthy Teen Minds initiative’s Sources of Strength program, an evidence-based suicide prevention and mental health promotion program for teens. Healthy Teen Minds draws on the power of peer social networks and connections with caring adults to build resiliency by leaning into the eight sources of strength, ultimately preventing mental health crises. Trained peer leaders (middle and high school students), mentored by adult advisors, create interactive campaigns within their schools focused on identifying and growing these strengths, so they can “flex those muscles” when life gets hard.
The program is in the fourth year of its five-year implementation phase. “Our guiding metric for this program, our ‘north star,’ is to reduce by 20 percent the number of teens experiencing depression,” says project coordinator Wendy Harris. “We measure progress through survey questions related to feelings of sadness and hopelessness on the YBHS survey.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sources of Strength was well underway in several schools throughout the tri-county region. Life definitely got harder, but a foundation was there to help. Appleton North sophomore Natalie Sheridan went through training and became a peer leader prior to the pandemic. The program showed her how evaluating and building strengths leads to better life balance for herself and a better ability to help struggling classmates.
For Sheridan, focusing on those strengths became even more critical during the pandemic. “My schedule was thrown off and I needed to get back to the basics in order to gain a sense of control,” she says. “Sources of Strength gives a clear outline of those ‘essentials’ and reminds me of everything I have to be thankful for in my life.”
The GGP grant was specifically used to purchase program supplies for the 2020-21 school year. Posters now hang in classrooms and hallways, advisors and peer leaders wear “Spread Hope, Not Covid” masks, and students are wearing “Hope – Help – Strength” wristbands representing their biggest strengths and those they’re working to develop. The materials enhanced the program in a visual way, increasing engagement among students and leaders as the program continues.
Prevent Suicide Fox Cities – Stronger Together, $6,000
The GGP’s second award went to Prevent Suicide Fox Cities’ Stronger Together program. Prevent Suicide Fox Cities exists to eliminate suicide and its toll on survivors and currently offers multiple support after suicide loss programs, hosts mental health wellness festivals at local high schools, participates in community outreach and coordinates local QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention trainings free of charge.
Stronger Together is a new program aimed at providing high school girls and their trusted adults with the tools to openly discuss mental health concerns while highlighting the importance of having a trusted female role model. Prevent Suicide Fox Cities’ Board Chair Cindy Reffke hoped to start this program since joining the organization more than six years ago.
“It has always concerned me that our young women and adult women attempt suicide at such high rates (more than three times that of males),” Reffke says. “Developing an event and having the opportunity to work with women to build self-confidence and help them see themselves as enough, is a goal of mine. Providing tools of engagement and empowering women and girls to take care of themselves and listen to others without judgement when someone is at risk is a win-win.”
“Stronger Together – A Virtual Mental Health Wellness Event” is scheduled for Saturday, May 1. At the event, six female community leaders will present on a variety of mental health wellness topics including self-care and finding your joy, the importance of a trusted adult relationship, and helping friends in crisis using ACT (Acknowledge someone’s pain. Respond with Care. Tell your trusted adult.) The speaker panel will wrap up with Frankie Moscato, a young woman from Oshkosh who is turning her experiences with bullying into an opportunity to help other teens.
The event is targeted toward young women and their trusted female adult, but is open to anyone who wishes to attend. Full details and registration can be found at tinyurl.com/strongertogether21.
While Reffke hopes this year’s virtual event will provide a good starting point, she envisions Stronger Together growing into an annual (in-person) event with breakout sessions, a mental health resource and self-care expo, onsite suicide prevention training, and more.
Last year’s Girls’ Grantmakers definitely saw a need in their schools related to mental health services and were empowered to make an impact. What they didn’t know was the extent to which the looming pandemic would compound this need. Nearly 12 months later, the conversation surrounding mental health has become more widespread, opening opportunities to strengthen messaging and build support. The momentum is there. The need is still great.