July 3, 2018
Elli Peltola – Peer Mentor Spotlight
We want to acknowledge some amazing work that’s been done by one of our rising Peer Mentor stars! Elli Peltola is a dedicated, and enthusiastic young woman. She has been working with us for some time now, and tells a wonderful story of her battle with self-harm and how she learned to love herself. We had the time to ask Elli a few questions, and here’s what we got.

Elli, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am 19 years old and was adopted from Belo Horizonte, Brazil into a great, loving family. Ever since I can remember, I have been blessed to be able to travel the world with my family, even living in Malaysia for a period of time. Traveling is my favorite thing to do, but I also like long drives with my friends, coloring in adult coloring books, and lots of sleep!

What are you up to these days, Elli?
Currently, I work as a gymnastics coach/parkour teacher (for the boys) to people of all different ages. I am taking a gap year from school, but will be starting community college in the fall to expand my career in mental health. Working for The NAN Project has been a significant experience over the last year that has helped shaped me into the person I now am.

Tell us a bit more about your experience with The NAN Project…
When I started, I wasn’t as confident with myself as I am now. I didn’t realize the impact my story could have on other people. Then one day, after presenting my Comeback Story, a girl approached me with tears in her eyes telling me how happy she was for me and how much my story spoke to her. It was a big eye opener because I never thought I could relate to someone so closely. I love working with the NAN project. It helps me emotionally and it’s helping increase my confidence, which is something I needed. I am so thankful to have found this job.

How did you get involved with The NAN Project?
I heard about The NAN Project through my DMH worker. We were looking for trainings I could do to better educate myself in the mental health field. When I was told that The NAN Project would help you craft your comeback story and share it with others to inspire hope, I thought it would be the perfect job for me.

Growing up I struggled to find hope in myself. I never thought I was important….until I started with The NAN Project. I had low self esteem and didn’t think my story could impact others but I was so wrong. I do have a purpose in this world and I am important. It’s hard to think you’re special when your world seems to be crashing down but there is ALWAYS someone out there who loves you and believes in you.

What do you use to cope with your own mental health challenges these days?The biggest resource I have found is just reaching out to others. Back when I was really struggling, this was something I’d NEVER do because I never wanted help. I didn’t want people to “help” me. It’s crazy how much a person can change over the years. A lot of my friends/loved ones/my providers know that when I’m upset, I think irrationally and react impulsively. I am very grateful  to have these supports who understand how I think and do their best to not have me react without thinking. One big thing that many of them do with me, is distract me from the negative situation and thoughts that are going through my head. For some reason, it tends to work most of the time. I’m also grateful I have people in my life who are willing to help and support me when I’m in need and they know how to react/respond when I need to reach out.

Can you suggest any other coping strategies for other PMs?
Self care was something I didn’t really know/want to do for myself while I was really struggling. Now, I realize that I am the only one who can take the best care of myself. For example, I actually love taking showers, keeping clean and moisturized because I feel the most beautiful that way. I love taking long showers, LOVE LOVE LOVE face masks, lighting candles in my room or even listening to soft music in the background.
A year ago I didn’t think I’d ever be able cope in the healthy ways I do today. But, with time, things did work out because I worked hard to live my life to the fullest and keep myself safe.

Thanks, Elli for taking the time to talk with us! 


May 31, 2018
We’re not just in schools…

Though schools are our focus, there is a lot more The NAN Project has been up to! As the warmer months approach, we find that the amount of Conferences we attend increases.  Between this yearly Conference Circuit and various trainings, we have kept ourselves very busy.

Back on March 16 (wow that seems like ages ago!), The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors hosted a workshop titled Developing the Conversation around Mental Health in the Classroom at the 3rd Annual SuccessFest. We were able to introduce The NAN Project and a handful of our Peer Mentors shared their stories of resiliency after struggles with Self-Harm, Depression, and Anxiety, and then answered questions while facilitating a panel discussion. We also discussed different strategies around how to open the doors to schools and get them talking about mental health and emotional wellbeing.

At the beginning of April, The NAN Project presented Jon Mattleman and his workshop, The Secret Lives of Teens, to a group of parents and educators at Westfield High School.  Here, Jon did an amazing job engaging the audience and providing some useful tips on what teenagers are really thinking, what they fear, and how adults can effectively support them. This workshop covered areas such as depression, suicide, substance abuse, and more. Our goal is to be back at Westfield High School next year to introduce our Peer Mentors to the student body, and keep this conversation going!

Over three intensive days in early April, The NAN Project held a New Peer Mentor Training at the YouForward drop-in center for youth up in Lawrence. This dedicated group of 10 young people were taught how to craft their past experiences into strength-based stories to help inspire hope in students. They also were certified in the nationally acclaimed suicide prevention program Q.P.R. (Question, Persuade, Refer), and were helped to develop more confidence in public speaking. We then held a Coaching day on April 20 to help these New Peer Mentors further develop their Comeback Stories, and to reinforce their communication skills. Thank you to all of our wonderful graduates, and congratulations on your new role as Peer Mentors for The NAN Project!

The NAN Project led a workshop at the annual Teen Mental Health Summit titled Developing A Conversation Around Mental Health in late April. Here, we showed our introductory video, had a few of our Peer Mentors share their stories, then led a discussion around what Mental Illness looks like in Young Adults. We had a great response by the 50 or so students and teachers in the crowd.

In early May, The NAN Project’s Cory, Mike, and Elli teamed up with Belle Cole at the DMH’s Provider Conference to lead a discussion about the video projects we have worked on together in response to a certain Netflix series – her project 13 Reasons to Fly and ours 13 Reasons Why We Need To Talk About Suicide. We then showed a few clips from each of our videos, and led a Q&A regarding the goals of these short films and how they can be utilized in a classroom setting. Later that same day, we premiered our full movie at a Mass Suicide Prevention Conference workshop with 120 or so attendees. To read more about that video, check out this other post HERE.

The NAN Project also tabled at the DMH Future Forum Resource Fair on May 4, at UMass Boston. Here, we did some networking and supported our colleagues in Gathering and Inspiring Future Talent (GIFT) with their presentation. We also were in Salem a week later tabling at the Salem High School Health Fair, using The NAN Project’s own Jeopardy board to draw in students and educate them on facts about mental health and coping skills.

On May 17, The Stoneham Substance Abuse Coalition invited us to speak at Let’s Talk About It, a community workshop headlined by Representative Michael Day from Stoneham. At the meeting, Ellen Dalton introduced The NAN Project, and had a few of our Peer Mentors present their Comeback Stories. After Q&A, we facilitated a discussion about what would be helpful to the students in the community in terms of support. This event was held in the wake of the tragic suicide of a young man earlier in 2018.

Thank you to all of our Supporters who made this past season so successful, the busier we are, the more people’s voices can be heard. We look forward to continue our quest to promote Suicide Awareness and Emotional Wellbeing!

Springtime School Review – 2018

As the school year comes to a close, busy season is upon us once again. Over the past few months, The NAN Project been working tirelessly with numerous schools as they try to equip their students with the tools they will need to maintain their Emotional Wellbeing before heading off into the Summer. Our standard presentation starts with an introduction to The NAN Project and a short video, followed by the core of our performance, our Peer Mentors sharing their Comeback Stories of resilience throughout their life’s struggles. We then engage students in a discussion about what various Mental Health Challenges look like, how to help a friend who may be struggling, and what supports are available in the Community.

We had the amazing opportunity to work with the Stoneham High School Peer Leadership Team by training them in suicide prevention in early March. 25 bright, enthusiastic students graduated the Q.P.R. (Question, Persuade, Refer) gatekeeper training, where they learned how to: 1) Ask someone if they are thinking about suicide (Question); 2) Help the person find hope and listen to what they are struggling with (Persuade), and, 3) Get them to the help that they need (Refer). (A small anecdote: when we met with the Peer Leaders about a month later, one of the students approached us and stated how fortunate he received the training when he did as a friend was struggling and he felt empowered to get his friend the help needed. This is what makes our work worthwhile!) We are excited to continue working with this community to keep the conversation around mental health going! We will also be back to present to 5 classes of Juniors and hopefully recruit more students for their Peer Leadership Team on June 5th.
On April 2 and 3, at Acton-Boxborough High School we introduced The NAN Project and had our Peer Mentors present to the junior Health Classes. It just so happened to coincide with the School carrying out the Signs of Suicide (SOS) screening, and showing the Friends For Life video,  which touches on how to respond to a peer in crisis (what timing!) We were able to supplement the wonderful Screening for Mental Health programs with our Peer Mentors opening up the discussion of their firsthand experience of Mental Health. The conversations were awesome and we hope to work with other schools that carry the SOS curriculum going forward.

The NAN Project is getting more active on the North-Shore with presentations at three schools across Salem, MA! On April 23, we opened the door by introducing The NAN Project to faculty across the school district. On May 15, we presented to Salem High School’s Therapeutic Program and their Hawthorne Program, which is for students who are returning to school after extended absences and lets them reintegrate on their own terms. And on May 23, we presented to New Liberty Innovation School, which is an alternative school within Salem Public Schools, that serves students that have previously struggled in school. Here we were given a tour of the school, introduced ourselves to the students, and had our Peer Mentors present their Comeback Stories. The discussions after revolved around how to tell someone you are struggling, who are the trusted adults you can turn to, and how to access supports if you or a friend is having a hard time.

In late April, The NAN Project finally got into Nan’s old high school, Hamilton-Wenham Regional. Due to a time restriction, we were asked to present to their entire Junior Class! We then divided all the students into 4 separate groups of 30 or so students to have a discussions about Mental Health, and what to do if someone you know is struggling. The NAN Project was then asked to come back on May 18 to present to 4 groups of Seniors (on their last day of school, nonetheless), as part of their yearly Senior Seminars. Our Peer Mentors leda discussions about the anxieties of graduating high school, and what supports the students can turn to as they transition to the next chapters in their lives.

The NAN Project was invited back to present to the second half of the junior class at CATS Academy in Braintree (we presented to the first half in February).  Here we introduced ourselves, aired our video, and had our Peer Mentors present their stories. Our Peer Mentors then engaged the students, who mostly come from overseas, in discussions about the anxieties of being far from home what supports they can turn to if they are struggling, for example, Dorm Parents, School Psychologist, and School Nurse.

We returned to Andover High School in mid-May to present to the junior health students. We love coming back here as this was one of the first schools we presented in. Over the past three years, we have presented to almost every junior at Andover High School, over 1,000 in total! We always have our standard introduction and our Peer Mentors share their Comeback Stories. One of our newest Peer Mentors, Elli, really resonated with a large number of the female students, though everyone did an amazing job. 

The Bromfield School in Harvard invited us to give a presentation to their entire 8th Grade Class on the 16th of May. This was our first time ever engaging a middle-schooler audience. We adapted the language we used for the younger students and discussed what mental health challenges look like for young people, especially for those transitioning into high school, which can be a very anxiety-provoking time in one’s life. Our message was very well-received, with one student even stating, “I think it went well.  We never pay attention as a group and I looked around and everyone was paying attention and taking it seriously.” We plan to be back at The Bromfield School next Fall!

Thank you to all of the dedicated School Staff that have worked tirelessly with us to make these presentations a possibility. It is your effort and belief in The NAN Project that makes what we do so impactful. Enjoy the Summer, we look forward to seeing everyone in the Fall!

May 29, 2018
Onix Jiminez – Peer Mentor Spotlight

We wanted to acknowledge some great work that’s been done by one of our rising Peer Mentor stars. Onix Jimenez is a bright young man, with loads of dedication. He has been with us for some time now, after originally taking our Peer Mentor training at YAVP last summer. But, life happens, and Onix took some time to work on some stuff, but now he is back and better than ever! Having first first his shared his story at SuccessFest in March, he is now a regular on Team Nanner regularly presenting at Schools and Conferences!

I took the time to ask him a few questions; here’s what I got….

Q:You put a lot of hard work into writing your Comeback Story, and it really shows. What were some helpful things for you to write it?

A: At first the idea of writing my story was a bit overwhelming, I’ve experienced a lot, and I’ve comeback from a lot, so it was really difficult, pinning down what aspects of my life I wanted my story to be on. It took a while but I managed to look at the things that I’ve struggled with, and the events I’ve had the most growth from, and I used those to hopefully tell a story that shows strength.

Q:You recently had your first presentation at SuccessFest. How do you think it went?

A: I was nervous. I’ll admit I was a bit shaky at first. However, for being one of the few times I’ve publicly spoken, with an entire audience’s attention, I was pretty proud of myself for being able to do it.

Q: What would be a piece of advice you would give new Peer Mentors sharing their Comeback Story for the first time?

A: The bit of advice I would give is to know your story and own your story. When I first told my story I was nervous, regardless of what stage you are in, a comeback story is about personal struggle and about being able to turn it around. It was hard not to think, “Well, what if my story isn’t worthwhile”. However part of what helped was reminding myself, that I know this story, it’s mine and it’s worthwhile to know that I came back from this struggle, even if just for myself. And maybe, hopefully someone else will see what the benefits are of owning their story…because it’s theirs, it’s mine, and it’s ours. We all want to succeed.

Q:How did you hear about the NAN Project?

A: I was involved in the Youth Advisory Group and the Tempo young adult resource center through Wayside in Framingham when the training was recommended to me. I had wanted to be able to take steps towards becoming a peer mentor for a long time, and I wasn’t sure how, so this was my first real step.

Q: You work an awful lot…. What are some things you do for self-care?

A: Between my other job and NAN, I had a lot going on, and at times it was stressful. I would spend some time with my friends and spend some time alone. However, I ultimately had to make the decision to leave (old job), as I had to acknowledge I had my limits. A huge part of self-care, is knowing those limits, and being able to push yourself to de better but also knowing when it’s time to recognize I’m stressing those limits too far

Q:If you had to use one word to describe your feelings towards the NAN Project, what would it be and why?

A: Exciting

Thank you Onix for sharing with us and all your amazing work with The NAN Project!

March 9, 2018
13 Reasons to Fly


We wanted to take the time to point out something that is pretty cool. The NAN Project’s own Peer Mentor, Isabelle Cole, has accomplished quite a feat. In the wake of confusion regarding The Netflix Thirteen Reasons Why series, Belle felt compelled to start an initiative on promoting positivity and life. Her project, 13 Reasons to Fly has now officially become a DMH promoted, non-profit organization. (Impressive right?)

I had the chance to talk with Belle and ask her a few questions

Why did you Join the NAN Project?
My friends over at DMH recommended that I speak with Kim Bisset, they said she’s really great at helping youth come up with their “comeback stories”. I reached out, and she mentioned The NAN Project’s peer mentoring program. I instantly wanted to be involved and a few weeks later, I attended their peer mentoring workshop. Their mission is so similar to my own.

Would you give us a little background on your non-profit, 13 Reasons to Fly?
I started 13 Reasons to Fly back in June in response to all the negativity surrounding the netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why. Originally, I just wanted to flip the script and create something positive. Instead of focusing on 13 Reasons to end your life, why not 13 Reasons to live, and hold onto hope? That’s where it all began, I was knee deep in my own recovery but was tired of hiding what I was going through. I was tired of the very thing I was in the hospital for being glorified and stigmatized.

What would you say is your main objective of 13 Reasons To Fly?
My overall goal is to stamp out the stigma that surrounds mental illness. We want to start the conversation and help remove the shame that comes with a diagnosis or treatment. We also hope to give people peer support so that they see they are never alone. I want people to feel like they are loved and believe they are enough.
Is there any other project that we should be looking out for?
My age makes it difficult, as I am still in school, but plan on doing the GIFT training over the summer. We are also working on a campaign within 13RTF called The Body Project which focuses on self esteem issues and emphasizes body positivity. Other than that, I am staying active with church, sports and a leadership/community service organization, Project 351.

What gives you hope?
The opportunity to help others. I live each day with the hope that I can make a difference. I want to use my lived experience to help other youth who are struggling with similar issues I did. I have met so many inspiring youth out there that love my message, want to stay connected, and even want to help, they give me help

Opioid Task Force

On January 12th & 18th Ellen Dalton introduced The NAN Project to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Opioid Task Force meetings in Lowell and Medford. This was a huge step for us, seeing as there were representatives from all over Middlesex County attending. The DA Marian Ryan has been amazing about promoting community based organizations to combat the opioid crisis, and fully understand how this crisis overlaps greatly with mental illness. After all, there is a link between drug use, depression, and suicidality.

We made many great connections at the Task Force meetings, opening the doors of communication with the Greater Lowell and Middlesex County Departments of Health, as well as the Police, Fire, and Emergency Services Departments. Our next steps are to bring our programing into the schools of Lowell and throughout Middlesex County.

The NAN Project will be presenting at the next Middlesex District Opioid Task Force meeting in Framingham at the end of March. We will continue and try our hardest to advocate about mental health and the resources available in our communities.

January 30, 2018
A Night of H.O.P.E.

Our Night of HOPE at Raw Art Works in Lynn last Thursday evening was amazing! Congratulations to everyone in the HOPE (Helping Other People Endure) Group for pulling off this inspiring evening where they screened a bunch of short films and then hosted a panel discussion about mental health, in front of an audience of 150+!! We couldn’t be prouder! They did an outstanding job fielding questions about mental illness, strategies to respond to a peer in crisis, and how they found the strength to talk about their struggles and resiliency! We also had 15 youth serving community organizations attend and distribute information about the resources available to young people and their families in Lynn.

The Night for HOPE was the culminating event of a six month project titled “There is Help & There is Hope: Promoting Mental Health Awareness through Art”. Back in the summer of 2017, The NAN Project was awarded a grant from the North Shore Community Health Network to improve mental health awareness and reduce stigma among youth, their families and the greater Lynn community. We have been collaborating on this project with Raw Art Works (RAW), a Lynn based organization that provides therapy through art for at risk youth. Together we applied a peer-to-peer model where young people use their lived experience to open up the conversation around mental health and educate the community about locally available resources.

This group, which became HOPE, began in September after we identified a group of peer leaders within RAW that were interested in educating their community about mental health. The 10 young adults went through a 4 day Peer Mentor training that covered the risks, signs and proper response to a peer or loved one who may be struggling with their mental health or feeling suicidal. The training then focused on helping the peers develop their Comeback Stories, which detail the mental health challenges that they and their families have faced, and how they found the supports and hope to persevere.

HOPE met on a weekly basis, to share and refine their Comeback Stories, create art that promotes dialogue around mental health, and to prepare for the mental health fair.  You can see some of the art in the attached pictures, including posters made using the printing press with inspiring messages and figurines promoting awareness.

The Night for HOPE at the end of the project on January 25 was a huge success, with attendance of over 150 young people, there families and community supporters. We enjoyed inspiring art, good conversation and each others company.  Congrats to all at RAW for the amazing night.

Thank you to all the community based youth serving organizations who took part in the health fair that followed the presentation, including Massachusetts Department of Children & Families – Regional Office, DMF, Children’s Friend & Family Services SocietyNaglyThe Artful Life counseling center & studio, La House, The Safe Project, YWCA North Shore Rape Crisis Center, Eliot Mobile Crisis Team, Haven Project, The Food Project, Lynn Community Health Center & their School Based Teams, and Lahey Health Behavioral Services!

You can also see some of the videos we screened by following THIS LINK.

January 16, 2018
Join The NAN Project & RAW for A Night for Hope!

Join us for the culmination of our collaborative project -There is Help & There is Hope: Mental Health Awareness through Art – on January 25th, when we will host a 2 part event for the Lynn community at RAW. First, HOPE (our group of Peer Leaders at RAW) will screen several short films that touch on different aspects of mental health and were produced by The NAN Project and RAW students. The Peer Mentors will follow this with a discussion about mental health and the supports available in their community. Next, a number of community based mental healthcare resources from Lynn will be showcased. We expect around 10 local providers to take part and provide informational materials to the attendees.

What: A Night for HOPE – Screening films & showcasing mental health care providers

When: Thursday, January 25 from 6 to 8pm

Where: Raw Art Works, 37 Central Sq., Lynn

How: Free event, open to the public

Background to the Project:

In the summer of 2017, The NAN Project was awarded a grant from the North Shore Community Health Network to improve mental health awareness and reduce stigma among youth, their families and the greater Lynn community. We have been collaborating on this project with Raw Art Works (RAW), a Lynn based organization that provides therapy through art for at risk youth. Together we are applying a peer-to-peer model where young people use their lived experience to open up the conversation around mental health and educate the community about locally available resources.

The collaboration began in September by identifying a group of peer leaders within RAW that were interested in educating their community about mental health. This group, which became known as HOPE- Helping Other People Endure – went through a 4 day Peer Mentor training. This covered education on the risks, signs and proper response to a peer or loved one who may be struggling with their mental health or feeling suicidal. The training then focused on helping the young adults develop their Comeback Stories, which detail the mental health challenges that they and their families have faced, and how they found the supports and hope to persevere.

HOPE now meets weekly, as we continue to share and refine their Comeback Stories, create art that promotes dialogue around mental health, and prepare for our upcoming mental health fair.

At the end of this project, we believe the Lynn community will have a greater knowledge of the supports and resources available to them, as well as a better understanding of the mental health challenges young people face and how best to respond to them.

Flyer for H.O.P.E.’s Mental Health Fair at RAW.2

August 17, 2017
A Night for NAN

Save the Date – October 19, 2017 from 6:00 to 9:00pm at Danversport Yacht Club

On behalf of The NAN Project, I am delighted to invite you to our first annual Night for Nan! This fundraiser and celebration of Nan’s life will be held at the picturesque Danversport Yacht Club, so please Save the Date – Thursday, October 19th from 6:00 to 9:00. The evening promises to be a fun filled event with presentations from our amazing Peer Mentors, a raffle, food, drinks, a silent auction and much more, all in support of The NAN Project’s mission to spread awareness about mental health and suicide prevention in schools across Massachusetts.

The Night for Nan will raise money to train and employ The NAN Project’s amazing group of Peer Mentors. These young adults have been coached over the past year to present their Comeback Stories of struggling with mental health concerns and finding paths to recovery to local high schools. The support we provide helps these young people both therapeutically and financially, while delivering a message of hope to the students who we reach. In 2017 alone, The NAN Project’s Peer Mentors presented their powerful stories in ten high schools, reaching over 1,000 students across Massachusetts. The NAN Project supplemented these presentations with professional development to more than 200 faculty members on the risks, signs and responses to students in crisis. We have already had some amazing items donated to our auction, and are extremely appreciative of your generosity in supporting this important cause. With your help, we believe we can reach even more students in the 2017-2018 school year.

June 30, 2017


Happy Friday friends of The NAN Project!

I hope you all have exciting plans for the weekend! It’s supposed to be beautiful, and it’s a great time to go to the beach, take a stroll through nature, or to explore a place you’ve never been before! Engage in any activities that bring you joy, because self-care is extremely important!

I joined the NAN Project about a month ago, and would just like to express how much of a blessing it has been interning with this exceptional organization. I have made so many beautiful friendships, and everyone has welcomed me with love, warmth, and open arms. Thank you all for being the kindest of souls!

So now, it’s time for some exciting news! Drumroll please…

Sure of you may have heard through our Facebook page, but if you haven’t, The NAN Project is ecstatic to announce having been named one of 100 local nonprofits to receive a grant of $100,00 through Cummings Foundation’s “100K for 100” program. ! We are so excited to have been selected from out of 400+ organizations for this grant. With this grant, The NAN Project will be able to continue to establish our school based, peer-to-peer model that provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention programming to additional high schools throughout Massachusetts.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people, with the rate rising every year, and nearly one out of four teens struggle with depression during their high school years. The numbers associated with mental illness and suicide are staggering, and we need to talk about these difficult topics with our children,” states Ellen Dalton. “Mental illness is treatable and suicide is preventable if we raise the conversation above a whisper – this is what The NAN Project provides, a safe place for the community to discuss mental health concerns and learn how to access the available supports.”

The $100K for 100 program supports nonprofits that are not only based in, but also primarily serve Middlesex. Essex and Suffolk counties. This year, the program is benefitting 35 different cities and towns within the Commonwealth.

Through this initiative, Cummings Foundation aims to give back in the area where it owns commercial buildings, all of which are managed, at no cost to the Foundation, by its affiliate Cummings Properties. Founded in 1970 by Bill Cummings of Winchester, the Woburn-based commercial real estate firm leases and manages more than 10 million square feet of space, the majority of which exclusively benefits the Foundation.

Enjoy your weekends, everyone!

See you next week!

Your fellow Nanner,

Heather Rotman

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