First launched as a simple Instagram page in April 2018, Project Proactive soon developed into a certified non-profit mental health awareness organization identifying and serving the unique struggles of teens in the Jewish community. Co-founders Shoshana Mehler and Rebecca Shapiro strive to advocate for greater mental health awareness and create a central support system by providing a wide range of resources, including live videos, blogs and references to other helpful organizations. These resources cover a variety of physical and mental struggles, such as anxiety, addictions, body health, family matters, prenatal mental health, proactive suicide prevention, trauma and stress.
Mental health struggles affect all communities and demographics. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults lives with a mental illness. This number rises to 49.5% among U.S. adolescents, depression being the most common, affecting 13% of teenagers aged 13-18. These mental health struggles can greatly interrupt and negatively impact teens’ ability to live their daily lives, maintain friendships and relationships and ultimately accomplish their goals.
Project Proactive recognized how a teen’s mental health is critical to them developing into their best self. With a thorough and substantial support system in place, Project Proactive seeks to expand its current resources by providing a teen-focused mental health leadership program designed to arm teens with invaluable leadership skills in order to make a difference in their respective communities.
Mehler explained that she had always imagined an initiative specifically focused on teens, as “new ways of thinking about mental health will come from this age group,” since they are eager to learn, adapt to new situations and have their own key insights about mental health.
To pioneer this program, Project Proactive’s Teen Leadership Development Program collaborated with Yeshiva University’s Summer Consulting Task Force Interns to act as mentors throughout the program and help participants develop their own mental health projects.
The technology for an online platform for work and communication existed before COVID-19, and they have since adjusted to such formats. Having remote operations in place prior to the pandemic, Project Proactive was able to harness and apply their unique strengths and experiences by developing a virtual teen leadership program. Furthermore, Mehler described how their program “became a solution to everyone’s problems,” as “here is a leadership program that will not only give them skills for their future, opportunities and connections and the ability to learn about mental health, but it is also a proactive measure for their own and their friends’ mental health.”
Teens in the program have the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of mental health advocates and leadership-development mentors while engaging in discussion groups, workshops and teamwork opportunities.
This two-week program, beginning July 27, is divided into three parts. Every morning there is a leadership workshop focused on specific skills including networking, teamwork, writing, fundraising, marketing etc. In the afternoon, teens learn about mental health and reflect on their own experiences. At the end of the day, there is a group session to hone in on and apply the skills learned earlier, and participants are divided into smaller groups where they brainstorm to develop their own project that “solves a barrier to mental health in their own communities and schools.”
Each group will be guided throughout the process by Project Proactive’s mentors and will be encouraged to proactively implement their solutions in their own communities. Teams will present their mental health initiative to Project Proactive and have the opportunity to win $500. This stipend will be invested in their project to grow it to make the biggest tangible impact.
Project Proactive is looking for collaborative, creative, motivated and passionate participants looking to develop their skills and make a difference in their broader communities. If you think you or someone you know would be a good candidate for the program, visit Project Proactive’s website to learn more and apply ASAP at www.jproactive.com/summer2020.
Support Project Proactive by following @Project_Proactive on Instagram, @jproactive on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn to learn more information about their events, initiatives and resources.
Olivia Butler is a summer intern at The Jewish Link.