Project SILK is a youth-driven safe space operated by Community Human Services in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh. Project SILK is an HIV prevention and care initiative targeted toward black and latino young men who have sex with men and transgender people 13-29 years old as well as their varied sexual partners in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area.
The mission of Project SILK is to provide a safe, healthy, supportive community environment for youth to grow, learn, express, celebrate, advocate and determine the meaning and direction for their own lives with the support of staff, service providers and community partners.
Project SILK utilizes social networking strategies as an outreach method. Testing and education are offered on-site to increase members’ awareness of undiagnosed infections. We implement behavioral interventions related to positive adult identity development and sexual health, skills-based programming for youth to actualize their goals, and linkage to medical care and ancillary services to promote overall wellness within HIV-positive as well as high-risk HIV-negative communities. Project Silk is committed to the emotional and skills development of all of our members and offers unique pathways to service delivery. Over the past year, we have explored and implemented several innovative service delivery models.
Project Silk has embraced technology to engage our members in behavioral health services. The youth space utilizes tablet systems in which individuals sign in to a personal account upon entry to request services. This system was a response to input that traditional methods of behavioral health interventions have not been effective. Youth surveyed reported rigid scheduling policies and culturally insensitive providers discourage them from using services.
Therapeutic intervention staff responds to service requests individually with the tablet system and incorporate electronic applications to track mood, encourage mindfulness, or incite communication around awareness of individual mental health issues. Project Silk also utilizes social media forums to circulate resources en masse, increase dialogue and visibility among consumers, and reduce stigma around behavioral health services. Through these forums, youth are empowered to use their voices, express their needs, drive services and leverage agency in regards to their care.
Project Silk is committed to youth-driven structures and has been from its inception. Although traditional individualized counseling works for some youth, this medical-model approach is not the best fit for everyone. Our innovation project challenges staff and other providers to explore the expansion of methods into various technological avenues and consider the need for a transformative cultural shift within the behavioral health field to incorporate more community-oriented, client driven practice.
Recently, Project Silk and CHS staff was invited to present to our county’s Office of Behavioral Health regarding our innovation in the technological arena and to illustrate how our approaches have created new pathways for youth engagement. We believe that interventions that are immersed within the community contribute to sustainability of those we serve because they reduce barriers to treatment and include more youth and their natural supports in care.
Community Human Services has been providing a wide array of physical and behavioral health care services layered with basic needs social services for forty-five years. The agency is regionally recognized for its harm reduction focus and culturally competent, comprehensive services. Through our partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Human Services, and other agencies within the HIV prevention community, CHS and Project Silk have been recognized as providers that are immersed in community, responsive to changing needs, and committed to sustainability.
Further, we are committed to enhancing the sustainability of our member’s outcomes by building their social capital, real world skills, and connections to other services and supports. Many of our interventions include not only the service provider and the participant, but also their natural support network to engage youth in services such as peer navigators on staff, collaboration with local churches, and volunteers from community organizations.
All of Project Silk’s processes and initiatives have been supported by member input and leadership. Mechanisms have been created to ensure that the Youth Advisory Board is driving services and activities at the space. This drop-in center space model could be replicated in other cities and/or rural areas. Any agency desiring to replicate the model must embrace member driven structures within youth services and have existing capacity in social service, behavioral health, and/or HIV prevention systems.
This model of utilizing social networking strategies and increasing pathways for youth to engage with behavioral health services could additionally be replicated with any population that is currently marginalized from traditional behavioral health services. We are developing best practices for behavioral health service uptake within different technological interfaces and incorporating community oriented practice utilizing social media platforms to build individuals’ social supports to promote overall wellness.
As a CDC funded demonstration project, the University of Pittsburgh is contracted to evaluate performance and outcomes to measure success of a newly designed, innovative program structure. Interim and annual reports are written to provide quantitative analysis of members served derived from information streamlined through a database connected to the tablet system itself. At our interim report for 2014, Project Silk reached 299 unduplicated members through our drop-in center and provided direct social services to 92% of those who identified needs.
Qualitative evaluation is conducted through feedback from our Youth Advisory Board to capture narratives of their experiences with behavioral health interventions. Beyond numbers designating youth engagement and linkage to care, we explore and record expansive knowledge of the underlying reasons for the success of our intervention methods. Our ongoing reports document quality assurance of programming inclusive of lessons learned and best practices established for training and technical assistance presentations.