EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Youth First Social Workers are meeting kids where they are most, at school.
“We will all face challenges and difficulties and how do we overcome those is the key and so we want to build skills around kids, protections around kids, so they are able to manage and cope and then ultimately be successful,” says Youth First President & CEO Parri Black.
With three additional social workers this year, 20 EVSC schools are now seeing the benefits. The track record is proven.
These Youth First Social Workers are changing and literally saving lives. They are licensed and trained to recognize stressors students are facing and how they are affecting their mental and emotional well-being.
The social workers listen and then teach students coping methods to build resiliency when times get tough. They also work with teachers on preventative measures and provide guidance to parents on best connecting with their kids.
One of the EVSC schools added to the list this year is Plaza Park. Principal Shane Browder says having a Youth First Social Worker has made a tremendous difference for the kids.
“It’s a resource that we haven’t had in the past to where now there is just a need that social emotional need and now we have another person on the property every day that can build relationships and be able to connect student needs to community partners to allow kids to move forward and come up with solutions to any situations they have,” says Dr. Browder.
High School Junior Joely Yaser remembers that day.
“It was not a good day," says Yaser. "Everything kept building up, and I didn’t know how to release my emotions or talk about them. I just blew up, and I kept everything in, and so I just I kind of snapped,”
It was 7th grade. A choice changed her life.
“I did have two options," says Yaser. "I was at the end of the hallway on the corner, and I was like should I go to the cafeteria and do something I’ll regret, or should I go straight and keep moving forward?”
Yaser believes she is here today because she chose to go to her Youth First Social Worker. She is like so many teens.
Every day is tainted by constant judging, confidence issues, and social media comparisons.
“Everyone’s changing," says Yaser. "Our bodies are changing and everything so people would just call me names. They were not supportive. They would start rumors.”
Yaser describes the feeling as being all alone with your pain, hopeless and helpless. Back then, Yaser took one day at a time, just trying to survive.
Now, she is planning for her future.
“I think I’m interested in becoming a paramedic," claims Yaser. "I definitely want to help others in the time when they’re vulnerable. I can help them in the time of their need.”
Of course, Yaser still has some hard days, but she has developed coping skills thanks to her Youth First Social Worker. Jenna Whitfield is one of the new additions.
“As more students got to know me it’s been an amazing experience," explained Whitfield. "Students have started telling me hey I’m concerned about this friend. Or I’ve even had students walk a friend down and say talk to her. I’ve talked to her. It’s helped me. So I think the stigma’s reduced quite a bit here.”
Youth First has 55 social workers serving in 76 schools. Their reach spans public and private schools in 10 counties.
They hope to keep expanding with adequate funding and support.