Name of Innovative Program:
Youth, Educators and Parents Speaking Together About Tough Topics
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
SpeakUp! provides youth, educators and parents the skills, opportunities and support to speak up and be heard on the critical issues of today (such as stress, substance abuse, depression and anxiety, body image, sex and healthy relationships). SpeakUp! has a unique approach of training youth leadership teams in various high schools and middle schools in the Philadelphia region. These teams learn in a series of meetings how to facilitate a customized conversation among youth, educators and parents on student-selected behavioral health topics in their school. This training culminates in a SpeakUp! forum with an opening speaker on their priority issue followed by breakout sessions each with 25-30 youth, educators and parents talking openly about tough topics (no family members can be in the same breakout). SpeakUp! is creating a culture of communication in our schools and families where it is ok to speak up about difficult or taboo issues.
Creativity and Innovation:
In 1992, Martie Gillin’s son Bob died of AIDS. She turned her personal tragedy into an innovative organization called SpeakUp! that encourages and facilitates honest and safe communication between youth, educators, and parents via small group discussions focusing on the difficult topics affecting the lives of adolescents today. Most programs addressing behavioral health within schools are one day, one topic and one audience. According to a High School parent, “SpeakUp! did more than any program on diversity, inclusion, understanding and awareness than anything I have experienced in my 12 years at my school.” SpeakUp! is an original student-centered program that recognizes the inter-relationship among these issues and the importance of bringing youth, educators, and parents together in a safe judgment free environment to foster an open trusting communication. SpeakUp! is the only program that connects the two worlds in which adolescents spend the majority of their time: school and home.
SpeakUp!’s goal is to improve connectedness, communication, and coping to help ALL teens avoid at-risk behaviors. SpeakUp! increases awareness and provides perspective. We teach participants they are not alone, it is ok to ask for help, and know where to get help. Our student leaders are doing an excellent job of encouraging their peers and families to talk openly about emotional and behavioral health. SpeakUp! is a pioneer in our consistent message that behavioral health challenges do not discriminate on the basis of income or school environment and that all kids need our help in this arena. Current research documents that underprivileged and well-resourced kids show disturbingly high rates of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other challenges. We are helping parents and schools realize their critical role in reducing the pressure on our youth.
SpeakUp! has a thirteen year track record of securing the resources necessary to continue and expand this important work. We have been proactive in diversifying our fundraising base and refining our pricing model. We have recently launched a funding campaign and have secured significant multi-year funding commitments. We were selected by Dr. Ken Ginsburg as one of five best practice organizations in youth resiliency and believe this recognition will help us to attract additional funding. We have strong partnerships with therapists, schools, and professional speakers. Our support from the community is overwhelming and we fortunately have a solid network of local businesses that contribute to our programs. We are excited that we will be expanding next year to new schools, adding parent programming, and will be providing training to local educators. Finally, we are in discussions with Penn State and other local universities about creative partnerships that would be cost-effective.
SpeakUp! has proven our model can be duplicated and adapted because we have grown from 1 to 27 schools spanning urban/suburban, public/private and middle- and high-school environments. Finally, as part of our participation in the learning network of five strengths-based youth development organizations, we have support to help prepare our program for broader replication outside the Philadelphia region and for disseminating lessons learned to the field.
SpeakUp! is successful by all indicators: 99% school retention with schools giving us precious time with students; tremendous growth as measured by number of schools, participants within a school and within a family; nearly 700 student leaders trained and staying engaged; and impressive customer satisfaction with 97% rating the events good or better, 94% saying they would come again and 95% saying they would refer a friend. Families and schools have come to perceive the program as a critical “emotional health” check-up. Our model has been externally validated through our selection as one of five “best practice” organizations in promoting youth and family resiliency. We are working with Dr. Ken Ginsberg and CHOP to develop a survey to measure impact in terms of general health, connectedness (at home and school), communication and coping. The aggregated results of these surveys will serve as an “emotional audit” for each school.