A beautiful thing is happening in Napa Valley. Teens are speaking up, speaking out, asking for help and standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, because they feel empowered to do so. Teens Connect, a new nonprofit in Napa, provides positive opportunities for youth to discover their self-identity, express their voice and create lasting social impact in their communities.

Our work grew from a desire to create a more comprehensive community of support for our youth, in response to the two Napa teenagers who died by suicide in 2016. Teens Connect collaborates with Mentis and the Napa Valley Unified School District to offer free professional therapy groups on middle and high school campuses. We also give teens a voice in the community, listen to their concerns and struggles, and offer tools and connections that guide them as they transition from adolescence into adulthood. We engage teens in meaningful, interpersonal work, as well as projects that benefit younger children, vulnerable communities, animals, and the environment. Our inclusive programs are carefully and strategically designed to enable teens to develop confidence, independence, and empathy.

When empowered, teens have the unique ability to think outside the box, generating responses to needs without the mental constraints of logistics, funding, and the status quo. This critical thinking and creative approach is the only way we are going to create real change. It’s imperative that we include our teens in important conversations about their lives and let them take a more active role in creating solutions.

During a recent meeting with Napa County’s mental health director Bill Carter, that’s exactly what happened. Members from the Teens Connect teen council openly shared their feelings about needing more mental health resources at their high schools. They mentioned feeling like they have “no place to go” when they are stressed, depressed or anxious. As a result, it’s common for them to hide in a bathroom stall to cry or have panic attacks. Teens need to feel that someone is always available for them to provide a safe, comfortable place to talk or hang out until they feel better.

“Meeting with community organization Teens Connect, I found a group of local teens who are extremely passionate and outspoken about the needs of their peers. It is invaluable to have an opportunity to collaborate with such an articulate, thoughtful and caring group. I look forward to working more with them in the future.” Bill said

Council members are not only speaking out about their concerns, they are helping with program development and peer outreach. Their mission statement says “Our Teen Council is an inclusive group of compassionate individuals seeking to inspire, motivate, and uplift our peers through outreach and community action.” The group, which is made up of teens from Independent Studies, New Tech, Napa and Vintage High Schools, as well as several college students, engages their peers through programs centered around art, nature, yoga and wellness, as well as connection to volunteer opportunities. Teens Connect also offers trainings in Youth Mental Health First Aid and self-defense.

“Teens Connect is creating safe environments for self discovery to thrive through mental health awareness, therapy groups that come in many forms, and the creation of a network of individuals who are not afraid to share their experiences and welcome others to do the same. Very few other organizations give so much authority to the community they serve and for teens attempting to craft individualism, having a place that gives them a voice stands as an invaluable gift to the Napa community. Teens Connect has touched my life and I know it will touch the lives of hundreds of teens in the future.” Brenna Eikenbary, Vintage High School graduate

How do we make the world a better place for all? The answer lies in our youth.

To learn more about Teens Connect and to find out how you and/or your teen can get involved, please visit teensconnectnapa.org.

By Jeni Olsen, executive director of Teens Connect

Napa Spotlight, December 2017