A Wichita group that works to prevent substance abuse in the community is trying a new approach to reach at-risk young people.
The Safe Streets Coalition selected five students to serve as mental health advocates for their peers at Wichita high schools. Safe Streets calls their teen volunteers “youth mobilizers.”
Program leader Ngoc Vuong says youth mobilizers will support students who struggle with mental health issues or substance abuse.
“If you want to truly address issues facing young people, we have to directly empower them," Vuong says. "And not just have them be at the table, but have them be at the head of the table."
Vuong says the teens will identify issues at their schools and help make changes happen. Another layer to the student-led initiative is raising dialogue on these important community issues and adding a youth perspective to policy-making decisions at the local, state and national levels.
Senior Jordy Mosqueda, 17, is a youth mobilizer for Wichita South High School. He says he looks forward to providing a support system for fellow students.
“I see a lot more things than adults usually see about what’s going on,” Mosqueda says. “Some parents ... they really don’t see that mental illness is actually a big problem along with drug addiction."
He says as a youth mobilizer, he will play an important role in helping develop better outcomes for young people at his school and in the community. He says one priority is making sure students and parents know it’s OK to talk about issues and seek help.
“I want to change the stereotype," Mosqueda says. "Most of us who are Hispanic usually put it off. We say that we are just sick, we are just having a bad day, but in reality there’s a lot more to that.”
Safe Streets will meet with youth mobilizers monthly for feedback throughout the school year. Vuong says the teens selected for this trial period receive a monthly stipend. The program could expand to other schools in the future.
The Safe Streets Coalition began in 2016 to create safer communities by partnership-building, youth engagement, and prevention strategies. It is affiliated with Partners for Wichita.