November 1, 2019
Recap on the Night 4 NAN!

On Thursday October 17th 2019 The NAN Project held the 6th annual Night for NAN at the Danversport Yacht Club for the third year in a row at this beautiful location.  The night kicked off right at 6:00 when the doors opened and guests started funneling in, eventually 250 in total!  They were met by the live 4-piece band headlined by Eliot’s own Keith Wales which set a mellow vibe for the start of the night.

Keith and his band greeting guests

Once past the band the attendees came across tables full of silent auction items containing everything from signed sports memorabilia to Caribbean vacations, elegant paintings to home woven quilts, and everything in between.  There was also a Fund-A-Cause table hosted by The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors where you can see how one’s generosity can directly support the work of these incredible young adults.  Next to the Fund-A-Cause was our Mental Health Jeopardy board that we usually bring to school health fairs and contains Mental Health related questions as well as myths and facts.  This turned out to be a big hit with the guests! Some folks even took part in our Rake for Cash Raffle where the winning prize was a rake full of lottery tickets.

At 7:00 the doors to the dining room swung open and the guests lined up for the impressive buffet spread, centered around the roast beef station, cooked up by the always skilled Danversport chefs.  Once everyone had taken their seats the evening’s program began.

Ellen delivering remarks

First up Ellen Dalton, The NAN Project’s Founder & CEO welcomed everyone to the Night for NAN and did an opening introduction where she talked about the accomplishments over the past year.  Jake then introduced the two star Peer Mentors, Ziona Rivera and Alison Sabean, who presented their Comeback Stories of resiliency.  Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola then took over the mic to encourage the guests to donate using the pledge cards on the table.  She was so persuasive that this year we had 10x as many fill out cards compared to 2018.  Finally it was time for Ellen to present the Friend for Life Award to the Commissioner of DMH, Joan Mikula for all the support she’s given The NAN Project over the past 4 years.  The program wrapped up with “thank yous” for all of our donors and supporters and the final Rake for Cash Raffle drawing, which was won by long time supporter Lindsay Nance (who we can only assume is now a millionaire after scratching some winning lottery tickets).

The NAN Project Team 2019

Overall the Night for NAN was a beautiful and successful evening and really honored NAN’s life.  It was a very special night for The NAN Project, which raised 150,00 dollars to support our continued work and everyone did agreat job and really came together to make it memorable.  We’ll see you again next year.   

September 6, 2019
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.

Peer Mentors stretch into the pose in a Mindful Yoga session lead by Alex Norby.

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.

Debbie Helms trains our team in Suicide Postvention.

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.

Our Peer Mentors filled the board during Greta’s DBT Pros and Cons activity!

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. 


These beautiful flowers are now hanging in The NAN Project office at 125 Hartwell – thanks to this team of Peer Mentors turned artists, and help from Fernanda Lopez!

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!

In this art activity lead by Alex, one continuous line connects our individual paintings together as one art piece.

July 31, 2019
Dear Evan Hansen

Earlier in July, a few of our senior staff had the privilege of attending the Tony Award-winning production of Dear Evan Hansen in Boston, thanks to the generous donation of an anonymous NAN Project supporter. Additionally, we were able to provide tickets to several teachers and guidance counselors from school districts we’ve worked closely with over the past year. We had a wonderful time socializing with our colleagues, soaking in the majesty of the beautiful Boston Opera House, and cultivating our mental health education and suicide prevention skills in a new setting. 

Greta, Elli and Sarah before ths show

The musical follows Evan Hansen, an awkward high school senior with an anxiety disorder, as he begins his school year and navigates his mental health in the aftermath of a peer’s suicide. Evan’s therapist has recommended that he practice positivity by writing letters to himself, detailing what will be good about each day. In the beginning, Evan’s single mother – a nurse by day and legal student by night – encourages him to make new friends, suggesting he break the ice by asking other students to sign the cast on his arm. Connor Murphy, presented as an angry outcasted punk that smokes marijuana before school, is the only person to do so, in big, bold print. Later the two have a confrontation in the computer lab where Evan is printing his letter to himself, in which he mentions how infatuated he is with Connor’s sister, Zoe. Upon finding this letter in the printer, Connor becomes furious and steals it. The next day Evan is called into the principal’s office to meet with Connor’s parents. We learn that Connor has died by suicide, and he was found with Evan’s letter in his pocket. Connor’s parents believe this to be a suicide note addressed to Evan and ask about his relationship with their son. Evan lets Connor’s parents believe that the two were good friends, as it seems to help them heal – but things quickly get out of hand, and Evan finds himself as the face of Connor’s memorial project.

Before the show, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC) held a panel for educators and mental healthcare professionals to discuss the show’s impact on this generation of struggling youth, and different ways we can better our mental healthcare and suicide prevention efforts. Panelist and trauma clinician Marlene Kenney noted that young people today are approaching trusted adults with songs from the show’s soundtrack. Teachers, then, are looking to Dear Evan Hansen to better understand these students. Panelists agreed on the importance of holding space for conversations about mental health in the classroom – after all, most young people look to access mental health services within their schools, rather than beginning with daunting outside medical services. Research has shown that students who access mental health services in school, where they may already have supports in place, are also more likely to stick with treatment.  

The Panel Discussion before the show, featuring The NAN Project’s Ellen Dalton

One thing Marlene would change, had she been working with students like Evan and company, is the way Connor’s death was memorialized. To hold space in memory of a suicide creates a “well of sorrow,” she says, where people will go to think about death. She suggests that the best way to honor someone who has died by suicide is to remember them as they were in life, not by the details of their death. The panel also took issue with disparaging comments in the script about LGBT youth. Evan is teased by a friend because the stories of his fictitious friendship with Connor make it seem like the two were secret lovers, and the romance is explored for comedic relief. Panelists argued that this is insensitive to the fact that suicide rates are five times higher among LGBT youth. Additionally, the panel criticized the cast’s lack of diversity, citing that students of color are less likely to access mental healthcare.

Regardless of its faults, the show has certainly impacted youth struggling with their mental health, and it spoke to our senior staff, too. There were tears, especially when Evan opens up to his mother about his own suicidal thoughts. Senior Peer Mentor Greta said she would have latched onto the soundtrack in high school: touching on experiences such as loneliness, non-belonging, and depression, it would have made her feel seen. The MSPCC panel praises the story for its portrayal of some signs of suicide in high school students, like the social and physical aggression Connor displays prior to his death. The play also shows how peers of a student who has died by suicide can become involved with “competitive grieving” – for example, the way Connor’s peers tried to out-do one another with stories of how he impacted them, and how much they were suffering in his absence. In this way, Dear Evan Hansen allows us a realistic glimpse into the tragedy and healing surrounding a youth suicide, even when the behaviors we adopt to cope are inappropriate. Regarding conversations about mental health with young people, we think this trendy musical is a good place to start, and we urge the audience – young people, parents, and educators alike – to keep the conversation going.We are immensely grateful for the opportunity to see this amazing production and process its impact with our colleagues in education and mental healthcare. Thank you to our gracious anonymous supporter, to the MSPCC for an educational discussion, to the cast of Dear Evan Hansen for a beautiful show, and to The NAN Project team for continuing to make space for mental health education. There is help, and there is hope!

July 17, 2019
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!

July 15, 2019
Filming with MindWise

The NAN Project Team spent the afternoon filming with MindWise to create a new, updated video for their SOS Signs of Suicide school-based curriculum. We used a couple of our peer mentors for the video, while they were being asked questions about their journey to recovery and how they stayed strong. Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola was also recorded for her own segment, for a deeper dive into her story. 

We cannot wait to see the final product! Thank you to MindWise for letting us be apart of your video that will be broadcasted to thousands of students all across America!

‘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!

July 2, 2019
QPR in North Hampton

By Sarah Dickie

Earlier in June, the NAN Project sent a few members of our team to Western Massachusetts for certification in leading QPR training for suicide prevention. Peer Coordinator Elli Peltola and Senior Peer Mentors Sarah Dickie and Onix Jimenez trekked up to Northampton the night before to enjoy a stay in the beautiful hotel Ellery. Elli and Sarah, arriving early in the afternoon, passed the time with a scenic walk down Main Street in the shopping district. We explored local shops and had delicious hibachi for dinner, giving us a chance to spend quality time together and build our working relationship. 

Training proceeded on Thursday, June 6th at Hotel Northampton from 8am to 4pm. An impressive spread of pastries, fruits, and coffee greeted us as we entered the sunny conference room. Floor-to-ceiling windows draped in luxurious, intricate curtains surrounded tables topped with white satin-esque tablecloths. The elegance of it all was daunting. Our team was feeling a bit nervous, a little out of our league, maybe (as this was the first time any of us had taken a trip like this for work), but we were overwhelmingly excited to learn and flex our mental health muscles. 

Before training began, we had the chance to enjoy the provided breakfast and socialize with the other trainees: some social workers, some teachers, some nurses, some police officers. We got to share our mission with them and make some new connections with school staff before the upcoming academic year of classroom presentations. Despite our different careers, we had all gathered there with the goal of better equipping ourselves to prevent suicide, lending us a powerful feeling of unification. 

QPR – standing for Question, Persuade, Refer – is a strategy for suicide prevention which offers increased possibility of early intervention, stressing action and active follow-up with the struggling individual. Using this strategy does not require the at-risk person to ask for help, but instead encourages friends of the individual to ask about suicidal intent and offer support through the help-seeking process. Peer Mentors at the NAN Project learn this strategy as part of their onboarding, and many of our senior staff become certified to teach this material. 

Our trainer for the day was Sarah Gaer of the Riverside Trauma Center, a Master Trainer of the QPR Institute. She shared that she had lost her best friend to suicide as a young adult and had dedicated herself to the cause in her memory. Our team could tell that Gaer was incredibly passionate about the work, which impassioned us, too. While remaining sensitive to the heavy material, she also had a great sense of humor, and thought we ought to have some fun together — this put us more at ease. 

In the morning we covered suicide statistics, risk factors, and various warning signs that a suicidal person might show; and in the afternoon, we dove into model delivery of the QPR curriculum, how to properly use official QPR Institute materials, and a QPR “boot camp,” which had us practice answering potential tough questions from an audience of trainees. 

We each went home with a bag of goodies lovingly packed: a binder of training guides, a starter pack of QPR information pamphlets, and some reading on providing support to individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts. Additionally, these members of our team are officially certified to teach QPR. According to the QPR Gatekeeper requirements, this means we are able to recognize a suicidal person at risk, demonstrate increased knowledge of suicide intervention skills, and demonstrate the ability to persuade the at-risk person to seek help and stay alive. 

Following this certification, our team is better prepared to provide sensitive and well-informed suicide prevention training to new and seasoned Peer Mentors alike; and, to provide guidance to high school students who want to help their friends who might be struggling. Many thanks to all of our supporters: you help us to take advantage of opportunities like this and keep our Peer Mentors trained.

Attending a Social Justice Workshop at DPH Suicide Prevention Conference

By Sarah Dickie

At the beginning of May, a few of us at The NAN Project had the privilege of attending the 18th annual Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Conference at the Sheraton in Framingham. The goal of the conference is to increase awareness of suicide as a public health issue by hosting discussions about advancements in the field through various workshops and exhibition tables. In addition to providing an opportunity for us to raise awareness about The NAN Project’s mission, the conference allowed us to expand our own knowledge about how to best carry out our work. I attended a workshop lead by the Mass Coalition for Suicide Prevention’s Alliance for Equity. It focused on the intersection of social justice and mental health: how racism and other systems of oppression impact not only suicide risk, but treatment of the survivor. 

Our instructors began by proposing three “shared agreements” for the discussion: make space, share the air, and embrace discomfort. These meant to encourage participants to prioritize the most marginalized voices, and for those with social privilege to hold back, but remain present. I would argue that these are excellent agreements for the wider discussion of suicide prevention, too. Speaking as a white person myself, it’s easy to feel guilty and dismiss the danger when confronted with the realities of racism. Likewise, it’s easy for straight and cisgender folks to do the same when discussing LGBT discrimination. As dedicated leaders of suicide prevention, it’s a duty of ours to consider the social privileges we have, and how oppression contributes to the issue of mental health — even when, and especially when, it’s uncomfortable. 

When the presenters opened the floor to participants, they had a lot to say about how people of color are treated in mental health care, and likewise how mental health is treated in their communities. One East Asian woman on the floor explained the pressure from her parents to earn good grades and make money, markers of success that are valued by her family’s culture. Her experiences with anxiety, which hindered her ability to do these things, were brushed under the rug. The culture dictated that she “be good” and “stay quiet” instead of opening up. One presenter, a bisexual East Asian woman, agreed that when she spoke out about her struggle in her youth, she felt “othered” in her community. If there were people like her, they weren’t talking about it.  

Professionals in mental healthcare added that they see racial disparities in their work environments every day. For one, youth who access care for mental health concerns in the greater Boston area are mostly white, despite a more diverse general population. This is likely a result of the toxic intersection of stigma and discriminatory care. 

“It depends what your color is, what treatment you’re going to get,” one older Black woman said. She went on to explain that Black folks who are mistreated in mental health care facilities are faced with the choice of whether or not to pursue justice, as within other arenas of their lives. She said that the stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” has dissuaded her peers from doing so. Not only does racism inform the treatment experience for a person of color, but it also informs how and how often that person will talk about it. 

Inequity in mental health treatment is a dangerous reality, a symptom of the discrimination that persists in healthcare as it does in the wider world. We know that mental illness is often a result of trauma — we might not know that oppression is trauma. Day after day, marginalized people face the hostility of a racist world. The stress of this builds up, and can result in complications like heart disease and psychological disorder. This is why the Alliance for Equity dubs non-whiteness as a “forever risk factor”: something only social change can combat. Social determinants — like discrimination, education, wealth inequality, and risk of violence — makeup 80% of an individual’s overall health, according to the MCSP. In our efforts for suicide prevention, the Alliance for Equity advises that we “keep the conversation going”: talk about mental health; work to incorporate diverse perspectives; and consider how societal forces impact risk.  

June 7, 2019
Spring 2019 Recap!

This spring, The NAN Project presented in a number of new schools, returned to past schools, met with community organizations and began working with Middle Schools as well.

Our Senior Peer Mentor Ziona presents her Comeback Stories to a health class at Lowell High School.

Our team of Peer Mentors traveled across the state this winter and spring, into a number of schools that had never hosted The NAN Project before! We met with after school groups The Power of Know and Youth Health Leadership in Revere High School, and the Phoenix program at Framingham High School. We presented to all of the sophomore health students at Lowell High School, and the juniors at Greater Lowell Tech as well! For a more in-depth article on our visit to Lowell High School, read Sarah’s article on the blog!

Peer Mentor Greta presents her Comeback Story to students at Malden High School.

We also returned to several schools that have seen our presentations before. Outside of our traditional stomping grounds of Greater Boston, our Peer Mentors told their comeback stories to health classes in Acton-Boxboro and Milford High School. On the North Shore, we revisited Medford High School, and recently, Andover High School.

Not only did The NAN attend at schools and after school groups, but we also met with different organizations within the Massachusetts community. In the early spring, we collaborated with the Malden Access Television station, also known as MATV, to produce a short PSA discussing the work we do. As they host classes for students on how to use television equipment, the students and our Peer Mentors worked closely to create a video based on mental health. The NAN Project has also partnered with other community
groups such Lowell’s Boys & Girls Club and CTI YouthBuild. as well as LEAP for Education in Salem, Cenerboard in Lynn, and at the First Congregational Church in Methuen.

Peer Mentors play Mental Health Jeopardy with students from Salem Middle School.

As we know students can start to struggle with mental health disorders at a young age, we have designed a middle school curriculum to spread the message on mental health. The first middle school we shared at with the new curriculum was Bromfeild Middle School, out in Harvard Massachusetts. Our set up for middle schools are a little different from our regular curriculum, as we want middle schoolers to know and recognize the signs of different mental health disorders, and how to help if themselves or a friend is struggling.  We adjusted the language we use to cater to the younger audience and made the program a bit more interactive to keep the kids moving. We just met with the Galvin Middle School, located in Wakefield, to come up with a project we can do with the students to spread awareness on mental health!

None of these events could have happened without our incredible team of Peer Mentors! Thank you all for your continued efforts to bring your stories to classrooms across the state. If you’re wondering what our team will do over the summer – we’ll be training! The second round of our Senior Peer Mentor training will be held on Tuesdays this summer in Malden.

Peer Mentor Spotlight: Jocelyn Cote-Pedraza

Jocelyn has been working for The NAN Project since last spring, and in the year that she’s been with us, she has grown so much! Jocelyn’s story is one of resilience and determination, of overcoming stereotypes and rising through adversity. I had a chance to sit down with Jocelyn, and chat about life, coping skills, and her work with The NAN Project.

Hi Jocelyn! Thank you for letting me interview you for the PM spotlight!

Hi Elli! Thank you for having me!

No problem! I want to start off by asking you to talk a little bit about yourself, and how did you hear about TNP:

Okay! I am 22 years old and I was born and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts. I currently work part-time for The NAN Project, and I’m also a rape crisis counselor and a sexual assault advocate. I attend Middlesex Community College, and I am studying business. I heard of The NAN Project through the GIFT training I attended, as The NAN Project and GIFT work very closely. I’ve been working for The NAN Project for a little over a year now, and it’s very important work for me. As a child i felt i was born to be a leader instead of a follower. I enjoy being apart of something bigger than myself and making an impact on others.  Since working with human services, I have found my niche.

Wow! You have a lot going on for you right now, I’m glad you’re keeping busy! So now that you’ve worked for The NAN Project for over a year now, what has your overall experience been like with us? Have you had any challenges or rewards?

Yeah, I can start with the challenges. I grew up in a culture where talking about your struggles were frowned upon and mental health was acknowledged but not addressed. I was told to keep everything in private and “what’s said in the house, stays in the house.” For a while I had a hard time expressing my my feelings and emotions, making it hard for me to advocate for myself. I kept everything inside. When joining The NAN Project, I still felt that it was difficult to talk about what my childhood. But with some time, I started to open up and I decided to share more information on my life and struggles. I’m constantly evolving in moving forward with my journey, and I’m starting to feel more confident sharing my newest version of my comeback story. One reward I got from this job was having one student from Medford High School come up to me afterwards to tell me he resonated with my story. He told me he struggled with some of the same things I did, and then he thanked me for sharing. This was really rewarding because I felt that if I could connect with at least one person, then my line of work has been fulfilled.

Wow! That’s amazing how far you’ve come since you started working for us. When you aren’t working, what do you like to do in your free time? What are some things you like to do for fun?

I enjoy doing a lot of things outside of work. For example, I have a passion for working on my own personal cars in my down time.. I’ve turned this hobby into my upcoming business: Pedraza Performance. I also enjoy attending jazz nights, comedy clubs and poetry, as I feel that these activities keep me afloat.


Jocelyn presenting her Comeback Story at Lowell Technical High School last week.

I’m wondering if you can tell me some skills you use on an “off” day to cope with your mental health challenges.

Like I said earlier, I really like working on cars, even on an “off” day. It’s very therapeutic for me because my mind views it as a puzzle. Each car I would view as challenge: to diagnose, analyze, and further assist the situation. When I’m not working on cars, I also really like to spend some time in the outdoors. I enjoy hiking, biking, and spending time on a lake. Getting outside of the city gives me a break from my busy life. On top of these coping skills, I like to use positive self-talk to remind myself that I got this.

You have very cool coping skills! I have one more question for you. What do you hope for in your future?

I’m currently in the process of pursuing my future. Im attending workshops and seminars to purchase my first home. I’d like to further expand my business and open a dealerships that gives 10% of my profit to a non-profit organization that helps people in recovery because, i know how hard the journey of recovery could be. Asking for help can be the hardest first steps, but acknowledging and validating one’s journey can be life altering for someone who may be struggling.  

Thanks Jocelyn, for all of your work with us over the past year, and for sitting down with me today. I can’t wait until Pedraza Performance is up and running!

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