06 October 2023
As a parent, I regularly worry about the well-being of my children, even now that they are grown. How can I make sure that they are well? How can I help them when they need me? Of course, these questions won’t come as a surprise to any parent, particularly as today’s teens and youth continue to face a litany of new and evolving challenges.
Rising antisemitism, body image, bullying, college admissions, the opioid epidemic, climate change, political volatility, and much more weigh on the shoulders of our community’s young people — all on the heels of a pandemic.
So, when Federation convened communal professionals and lay leaders to identify areas for focus in the coming year, as we often do, it was no surprise that teen mental health repeatedly surfaced as a key issue for our community to address.
These discussions, coupled with our understanding of the data, ultimately led to Federation’s $181,000 investment in teen mental health. Launched in August 2023, our approach over the coming year includes funding peer-to-peer training, peer-mentoring programs, and other teen mental health and relationship initiatives led by experts in the field and our partners throughout Jewish Greater Washington.
The intent is to build capacity among the organizations, including BBYO and JCADA, that are uniquely qualified to respond to the wellness needs of teens in our Jewish community. Together, they’ll work with day schools, camps, synagogues, and other organizations to provide ongoing support and training for professionals as well as teens.
Because we know that teens are often likely to turn to their peers rather than adults in difficult situations, we are working to expand peer-to-peer and peer mentoring programs. By enhancing the funding and strengthening the organizations doing this work day-to-day, Federation aims to better equip teens to identify challenges earlier, access resources in the context of difficult relationships, self-evaluate, and tap into mental health and wellness resources if they or their peers are experiencing mental health challenges.
We are also investing in a community Resiliency Roundtable through which JSSA, in partnership with Federation, is convening Jewish professionals who work with teens in synagogues, youth groups, day schools, camps, and more to collaborate, share resources, and develop communal strategies to address teens’ wellbeing.
This project has the potential to create a significant ripple effect. Teens will be able and encouraged to employ and advocate what they’ve learned across their social networks, including at home, school, synagogue, clubs, teams, and more, and to support their peers in these spaces and beyond. In turn, we aim to create a pipeline of Jewish teen leaders trained in mental health first aid, helping to increase the number of camp counselors, youth professionals, and future Jewish educators equipped with these resources.
This specific initiative is part of Federation’s overall effort to care for and support community members at all ages and life stages. By recognizing the challenges faced by our youth and working with our partners to build critical infrastructure to address these issues, we can help build a stronger community and stronger individuals within it.
I am encouraged by the promise of this work and how we can continue to nurture and empower our youth.
Thank you for working together to strengthen and brighten our community, today and always.