Being a good neighbor means more than ever before

Building Mental Health for Minority Children in Evansville, Indiana

Youth First, Inc. joins with Joshua Academy to build mental health resilience and student success.

Joshua Academy is a charter elementary school in Evansville, Indiana serving primarily students of color, the majority burdened by poverty and adverse childhood experiences that make it difficult to flourish in traditional classrooms. Principal Arveneda McDonald says: “We call our students ‘the bright ones,’ because we know they are open to learning and shining with potential, but only 30% can read at grade level. Only 40% can do math at grade level. Why? In part because they are dealing with serious challenges: incarcerated or addicted parents, poverty, anger, depression issues, and more. The school needs a Youth First Social Worker in the building to provide resilience-building strategies, skilled resourcing, teacher/parent training, and a dedicated mentoring presence.” The COVID-19 pandemic and increasing racial disparities make the need even more urgent. Youth First’s proven model of mental health support and prevention will help Joshua Academy’s 250 students shine even brighter.

This grant will provide the seed money to embed a Youth First Social Worker and prevention programs in Joshua Academy to improve student well-being. Youth First is uniquely positioned to build resilience in young people by bringing: 1) Master’s level social work expertise into the school where any student, family or teacher can get help free of charge; 2) a menu of evidence-based prevention programs that give kids and families lifelong tools for emotional empowerment; 3) experienced clinical supervisors and support from 60 other school-based Youth First Social Workers; and 4) a sustainable funding model blending school, government, and charitable dollars so that everyone who benefits from stronger youth and families also has skin in the game. Youth First’s 22 years of sustained growth to serve 90+ schools in 11 Indiana counties and its passionate Board and staff will ensure that Joshua Academy students continue to get the vital support they need in the years ahead.

Research confirms that mental health support is essential to success in school and in life. A State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant will equip Joshua Academy’s students with powerful tools and caring relationships that help them overcome social, emotional, and economic barriers. When these underserved young people grow their resilience and excel in the classroom, they will become the next generation’s leaders responsible for improving the community’s quality of life. Tiara Owen, served years ago by Youth First, reached out to share the lasting impact: “My Youth First Social Worker changed my life. She pushed me when my home life wasn’t the best, and she is the reason I graduated high school. Thank you!” Two decades of data show that Youth First Social Workers strengthen communities at the intersection of education, health, and workforce development, empowering young people to flourish. Let’s assist this exceptional school and its “bright ones” with the support they need to succeed.