Peer Spotlight: Manny Hernandez
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am from the inner-city of Lawrence. Growing up in my community was a beautiful experience, but it was also very challenging. My mom is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and I am a first generation American. Coming to the States was what she dreamed of, to be able to provide for me and her family. Over the years we’ve overcome some extraordinary challenges and met a great number of people who were willing to give us a hand.
What made you want to work as a Peer Coordinator for The NAN Project?
During my first year of Community College, I met an amazing mentor. He taught me so much about the struggles my community and I were facing and why it’s so important to overcome them. I was inspired to learn more about social services and community work. I was determined to help others build connections and maybe become a mentor myself someday.
What strategies do you use to deal with your own mental health?
When people learn about my mental illness I often get “nah, you don’t got that.” As if I am supposed to look a certain way if I say I struggle with psychosis. I gladly, reply back and say “well, what do you know?” Mental health is something that can affect anyone. Sometimes the struggles we go through push us to unhealthy coping mechanisms and not everyone you meet is willing to talk about these things. The truth is, if we were more accepting and more open as a community, we could break down many barriers for individuals in need of service.
What is an example of something you did to help a student or a friend?
Whenever I talk to friends about their challenges, I come from a mindset of curiosity. I simply want to learn. Most people have the answers they’re looking for somewhere inside of themselves. By having a conversation with them and being open, vulnerable and non-judgemental, much of what they’re searching for can come to the surface.
What hopes do you have for your own future?
I think someday I’d like to write a book on my experiences. I believe that it could truly help someone who is struggling with psychosis understand that there are other people out there who’ve been through it too.
What commitments do you have for the year?
This year I am focusing on one thing. Finding healthy ways to cope and be a better resource to those who may be searching for an answer.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Some of my interests include sports. I love playing basketball with friends I’ve made through work. It has been a great way to meet people and get to know the Greater Boston community better. Some of the folks I play with also have jobs in which they’re giving back. Knowing that I am surrounded by individuals who care about the kids is truly rewarding. Hopefully in the future we can collaborate on projects together and do some awesome things.
What advice do you have for our Peer Mentors?
One thing I always say to myself is “We gon’ be alright.” Kendrick Lamar couldn’t have said it any better. We have seen some amazing obstacles in our lives. But, as long as we stick together as a community we gon’ do just that.
Wrapping up Spring 2021!
Since our last newsletter, The NAN Project has continued our virtual presentations to students, educators, and community groups throughout Massachusetts. As we near the end of another school year, we’re proud to say that since March 2020, our team has provided programming to 2,837 students and 1,585 adults that support them! While we’re hopeful that next year’s presentations might be done face-to-face, we wanted to take a moment to recap the incredible work The NAN Project Team, and our Peer Mentors have done over Zoom – from their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchen tables!
MASCA Conference The NAN Project team presented one of our professional development workshops at this April’s conference of the Massachusetts School Counselors Association (MASCA.) The workshop, titled, Building Resilience in the Shadow of COVID covers our tried and true strategies for the months of transition ahead. In total, 65 educators and counselors from all over the state tuned in to watch our presentation, which offers practical tips for both educators, counselors, and the students they serve!
La Colaborativa This spring, TNP had the opportunity to create connections with many communities and student groups. Interns from La Colaborativa’s Mental Health Internship program completed targeted micro-internships for mental health organizations, including The NAN Project! These interns attended our Peer Mentor presentations and received QPR Suicide Prevention training, then got straight to work creating materials to promote our programming to their school administrations – see them below!
These interns opened the doors to Chelsea High School and Excel Academy, and we’re looking forward to working with these schools, and the greater Chelsea Community, more in the weeks and months to come!
QPR trainings for DPH & Eliot This year, our team has offered a total of 18 Question,Persuade, Refer (QPR) Suicide Prevention trainings for employees of Eliot and the Department of Public Health, with more on the books for this spring and summer! It has been a pleasure to work with so many professionals, and to offer QPR as a refresher course for the critical skills the training offers. One audience member reported that, “The webinar was engaging and showed how to directly apply what we learned in our specific workplace environment.” We’re thankful to receive such positive feedback, and look forward to the trainings to come!
PD for Lawrence The NAN Project is excited to take its first steps into the Lawrence Public School System! Last week, we provided our Professional Development workshop, Building Resilience in the Shadow of COVID, to over 200 educators and faculty serving Lawrence High School. Our team were described by participants as “honest, helpful, and succinct” while offering “great content and helpful strategies.” One educator shared learning “that we are not alone in what is happening with our students.” We couldn’t agree more! Thank you Nelson Butten, Caitlin Gilligan, and Principal Victor Caraballo for making this new partnership possible!
This spring, we’re excited to see our partner schools taking steps towards ‘normal,’ as many students return to their classrooms for the first time. As students, families, and educators reflect on a strange school year, and prepare for the fall, we know mental health will be on their minds – and The NAN Project will be there to start the conversation!
The NAN Project’s End of Year Recap
End of Year Recap
The NAN Project team has been super busy this school year with our Peer Mentor presentations, professional development trainings, and parent presentations. Since the beginning of this school year, we have presented for 16 schools to over 1,350 students and 770 caregivers, parents, and community stakeholders. That’s a total of 2,120 folks! While most of our presentations were to high school students, we really expanded our audience this year with a successful rollout to middle schoolers and parents. We recently finished up a round of presentations at Beverly Middle School and their students were so excited to talk with us. They asked our Peer Mentors questions about their stories and shared their own experiences and coping strategies. The conversations were enriching for both the students and our team. Check out what Beverly’s teachers had to say about us:
“Speakers were fantastic, love the new addition of the self-care kahoot, great education around strategies to help.”
“I thought it was great. Super well organized. I loved that you had 3 speakers and I think it was 3 others as well [to answer students’ questions]. It felt like you set it up for safe conversation. The speakers chimed in when students were more quiet making it conversational. “
What Does a Typical Middle School Presentation Look Like?
Three of our Peers present their COVID Comeback stories,which talk about how their mental health has been affected during the Pandemic and what strategies they are using to take care of themselves. Between each Comeback Story, we have a discussion with the students about warning signs they noticed in the story, the importance of reaching out to a trusted adult, and different self-care activities they could try. Every class has a guidance counselor come in to talk about their role and the mental health resources available in the school, so students know they have a trusted adult available if they need to talk. We’ve added a self-care Kahoot, which is a virtual trivia game , to engage students and make presentations more interactive.
We’ve also had big turnouts and lots of positive feedback about our parent presentations! Because we are doing everything virtually this year, our trainings have become a lot more accessible for busy parents. Schools have told us that parents they haven’t had any contact with all year have come to our events. One of our popular trainings is called Building Resilient Families, where our knowledgeable trainers go over different strategies to help families adapt to challenging situations and bounce back. We also provide many resources including hotlines and websites with mental health information. Since parents and families are a really important source of support to young adults, we are so happy that we’ve been able to connect with them more in the past few months.
We look forward to continuing our work in the New Year. We hope everyone has a healthy and safe holiday season!
Presentations to Medford Senior Class
Each of our partner schools is using a unique blend of in-person and remote learning this year, which means all of our presentations have been adjusted to their scheduless to best accommodate our student audience.
This December, we had the opportunity to completely reorganize our typical presentations while working with the senior class of Medford High School. Our capable team ran three activities for students simultaneously, rotating students each week for a total of nine sessions.
In all, we reached over 250 students!
Screening of 13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Suicide:
Executive Director Jake Cavanaugh and Senior Peer Mentor Andrew Christopher screened vignettes from our 13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Suicide series. These videos dramatize some of our core curriculum, and offer some engaging visuals that our remote learners definitely appreciated! The Depression and Anxiety vignettes show a fictional, but honest, portrayal of young people experiencing these mental health challenges, and describe how common symptoms may look or feel for students. These videos are a great jumping off point to discuss some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression, in a slightly different way than our Comeback Stories. Jake and Andrew also lead a discussion around our Coping Strategies video, where some of our own TNP Peer Mentors describe their self-care techniques!
Creating a Self Care Toolbox: Peer Coordinators Elli Peltola and Shilpa Thirukkovalur lead students in an interactive, hands on activity focused on creating a Self Care Toolbox. The activity taught students about different types of self-care, such as physical self care, or spiritual self care that, together, create a well rounded set of skills that can be used across different scenarios – like a toolbox! Shilpa and Elli reported a lot of great interaction in the chat with students, discussing different self-care activities they are doing during the pandemic as well as how their self-care has changed.
Stress relief was a popular topic, and students recommended going on walks and spending quality time with their dogs, cats, and other furry friends. Sounds like a good idea to us!
To check out the activity Elli and Shilpa used, check out Virtual Hangout #10 in our Lesson Plans for educators!
Peer Mentor Presentations:
Clinical Director Donna Kausek and Peer Coordinator Lizzie MacLellan lead our Peer Mentor Presentations to students, using two breakout rooms to create smaller, more personal groups. Peer Mentors shared their updated Covid Comeback Stories, which focus on the strategies and supports they’ve found most helpful in managing their mental health this year. Students were so appreciative of these stories, and asked some thoughtful questions about the challenges our Peer Mentors discussed. Medford was the first student audience for some of our newest training graduates, but you wouldn’t known that from how skillfully they handled the fast-paced Q&A!
That’s four Nan Project presentations running all at once! This strategy was unique, but it allowed us to keep each presentation group small and interactive as our in-person programming. Most students made use of the chat feature to share their reactions and questions, and we were so impressed by their curiosity and insight. Though these students have had a strange senior year, we’re hopeful that this knowledgeable bunch will continue their conversations about mental health through the rest of the school year.
Our Peer Mentors once again rose to the challenge presented by remote learning, as they have all year! We’re excited to return in 2021, and to work with underclassmen in the future!
A Night for NAN 2020
Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, The Nan Project will not be holding our annual fundraising event, A Night for Nan. However, we know the need for suicide prevention and mental health education is more important than ever.
The Nan Project team prepared this video to thank you for your ongoing support, and show you how we’ve adapted our programming to reach students, educators and parents in this challenging year.
Until we can be back in schools again, The Nan Project will continue its work through every possible platform.
We hope you will consider donating to The Nan Project in support of our work, and we look forward to seeing you next year.
Peer Mentor Spotlight: Andrew Christopher
This month The NAN Project would like to feature Andrew in our regular PM Spotlight section. Andrew has been with the NAN Project after completing the last Peer Mentor training back in January of 2020. Andrew brings a lot of positivity to The NAN Project as well as some great ideas and lots of unique knowledge.
1). Tell us how you learned about TNP and why you decided to join? How has your time with the NAN Project been ever since you completed the training?
I actually first learned about The NAN Project about four years ago when I was approached by Ellen Dalton when I was working for Eliot Community Human Services at the time in a different role and at the time I actually passed up the opportunity and I’m coming to regret that as it seems like a great organization. So far, my time with The NAN Project has been great, it’s been very rewarding. You get to work with some very nice people and get to do worthwhile work as well.
2). For our readers who haven’t had the chance to hear your story, can you highlight some of the supports you used to overcome your mental health challenges?
Certainly. Growing up I was a kid that had some issues. I was bullied. I have a few learning disabilities. The support systems that really helped me was a school counselor, a therapist and my parents mostly. My counselor advocated for one thing that really helped me – I got to take my tests in another room to limit distractions. They have all been crucial in getting me where I am today.
3). I know you mention your love of sports in your Comeback Story. What is your favorite to play? And what is your favorite to watch?
Hockey has always been my favorite sport both to watch and to play. During this time I’ve actually been watching some old game I’ve never seen. They were there before my time, but still very fun to watch. The Summit Series between the USSR and Canada from the 70’s I found very interesting in particular.
4). You mentioned in your Comeback Story that quitting sports was probably one of the biggest regrets in your life. What made you get into sports and what was the first sport that you did?
It really is one of the bigger regrets in my life I would say. I had always been someone that played sports. I come from a family that was very much into athletics and I grew up playing hockey. I essentially learned to skate as I learned to walk and after that I got into baseball, football, soccer, lacrosse and basketball all at different times. Hockey and lacrosse are definitely the most fun to play though. Sports was a good outlet, where mental health didn’t matter. It wasn’t something that came up on the field, which I liked as a kid.
5). Were there any other jobs that you had in the past prior to working with The NAN Project that was related to Mental Health?
Yes, I actually worked for Eliot Community Human Services as a Peer Specialist in a group home for about five years called The Avenues Home. I got to work with some great kids, and through working with them, learned about myself.
6). What would you say was the most meaningful presentation that you did? And why?
One of the afternoon presentations we did in Methuen High School. I would say we had a very good group of kids that day. They were very active listeners and they had very good questions. I feel like my story related to more than a handful of kids in the room which is always very rewarding, even if you have two kids responding to your story that it’s a win – but it seemed that there seemed to be eight or nine at the time that was a really cool feeling for me.
7). You mention being an avid reader in your Comeback Story. Can you tell us about a book you’ve recently finished, or about your favorite author.
A book I’m currently reading is about a French guy in the first World War called Poilu. It’s his four years of notebooks from serving in the first World War. It’s an interesting read. One of my favorite authors though would be Kurt Vonnegut. I read just about everything he wrote before he passed away. What he wrote was always funny, smart and witty; there are no just not many writers of his quality, I think, with his humor.
8). Lastly, what is one thing that you feel grateful for in your life now?
The health and wellness of my family, especially during this time. I’ve been very thankful during the Covid crisis no one in my family has come down sick or anything. My brother still lives in Brooklyn so we’ve all been very worried about him. So, I’m very thankful for everyone that I know dearly that are healthy at this time.
Thanks for sitting down to chat, Andrew!
To read more Peer Mentor Spotlights, click here!
The NAN Project on ‘5 for Good’
See the The NAN Project Team on WCVB -TV Channel 5 for their segment “5 for Good.” The team was interviewed by anchor Erika Tarantal. Ellen, Jake, and Elli discuss The NAN Project and the growing need for mental health awareness and suicide prevention programming in schools!
Watch the clip here.
Senior Peer Mentor Training 2019
Written by Sarah Dickie
This Summer, The NAN Project held our second Senior Peer Mentor Training Camp. This six-week, twelve-part training covered a wide range of topics relating to mental health, suicide prevention, and self-care. As summer tends to be a slow time for the work we do, with high school students on break from school, these trainings have three purposes: to provide our Peer Mentors with work; to build on our presentation and suicide prevention skills; and to strengthen the relationships among our team.
Through our participation in this training camp, our Peer Mentors learned a lot about supporting youth struggling with their mental health. Meghan Diamon of Mindwise introduced us to SOS: Signs of Suicide, a series of universal, school-based depression awareness and suicide prevention programs designed for middle school and high school students, as well as their parents and teachers. SOS is similar to the Question, Persuade, Refer or QPR method that we teach: both involve “asking the question” – that is, asking if a youth is thinking about suicide – and encouraging the youth to seek mental health support. We also learned some “postvention” approaches for providing support to loss survivors after a suicide with Debbie Helms of Samaritans of Merrimack Valley. Later, Kelsey Taylor taught us all about Motivational Interviewing, a method of supporting an individual in taking steps toward changing harmful behavior. MI is appropriate for use by clinicians and us average folks, because of its focus on keeping power in the hands of the individual changing their behavior. Though we don’t work one-on-one with adolescents in our line of work, this method is valuable to us in our everyday lives as we help our colleagues and our loved ones in their recovery journeys.
Our team also enjoyed the opportunity through this training to improve our working relationships and practice our self-care. We began the summer with mindful yoga for anxiety relief, led by art therapist Alex Norby. This was a first for most of our Peer Mentors, and many found it so rejuvenating that they sought to add it to their personal routines. Later, Senior Peer Mentor Greta Waag taught us some self-reflection skills through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, a method that has helped her tremendously in her own recovery and one she’s very passionate about. Additionally, our team clinician Donna Kausek led us in a conversation about healthy work relationships, covering topics like effective communication, fostering mutual respect, and making and keeping boundaries – all skills that will prove invaluable to us in our work with The NAN Project and beyond.
To break up the sometimes intense suicide prevention topics, we got to have some fun and flex our creativity with improvisational activities and artistic projects. Friend of The NAN Project and filmmaker Dan Perez de la Garza led us in a film studio workshop. Last year, Dan helped us create the vignettes about mental health that we’ve released on YouTube. He encouraged us to use film as a medium to express ourselves, given that our work in high schools has already made us storytellers. Building on this theme, Agatha from Salem State University lead us in some public speaking and storytelling exercises. We practiced concise phrasing with six-word stories and answering tough questions with no preparation in front of an audience, which pulled many of our Peer Mentors out of their comfort zones. Though it may have been hard to get through, this exercise showed us that we have the skills to power through an uncomfortable situation. Our team did lots of art, too: Alex returned to lead us in a group painting project for which we connected our individual canvases with one continuous line, illustrating how we are connected as The NAN Project team. Finally, art therapist Fernanda Lopez from Lawrence Arts House helped us to create a three-dimensional mural to represent our work. We used daffodils as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings in recovery, and arranged them around the word hope, which we hope to instill in the students who attend our presentations. We hung this mural in The NAN Project’s Lexington office as a reminder of our incredible journeys and of the great time we had together this summer.
Following this extensive training, the wonderful group of young people who participated have all graduated to Senior Peer Mentor status. Thank you to our guest instructors for taking time to come work with us; thank you to the Young Adult Vocational Program in Arlington for lending us a beautiful training space; and thank you to Eliot and the Cummings Foundation for the support to make these trainings happen. Our team is more prepared than ever to return to high schools this upcoming fall!
The NAN Project on Chronicle
The NAN Project was again featured on Chronicle, this time as part of their coverage of Suicide Prevention organizations and resources for National Suicide Prevention Week. Special coverage is given to our recently completed film, “13 Reasons Why We Need to Talk About Suicide.” Watch the segment here!
‘The Promise of Hope’ with Malden Access TV
This March, a team of our Peer Mentors reflected on their recovery for the first episode of ‘The Promise of Hope,’ a segment filmed for Malden Access TV. We had a blast working with the staff of MATV, as well as the film crew – all young adults themselves and students of Malden High School and Middle School!
To watch the episode, click here or watch below!