Posted April 3, 2008

Youth With Voices program helps their peers, themselves

Youth with Voices Suicide Prevention
Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University
Dewayne Daughtry, 18, a Peer Navigator in the Youth With Voices program, counsels one of his fellow students during one of the group's training sessions. Daughtry, who is headed to Louisiana State University to study Electrical Engineering, said the program has provided him with skills that he'll be able to use in college and beyond.
Seventeen-year-old Pamela Jones is a lively young woman who is still trying to decide whether she’s going to be a fashion designer or a social worker once she graduates from Lock Haven University.

But in William Penn High School’s room 106, she exudes self-assurance as one of the Peer Navigators of the Youth With Voices. It was something that Pamela gravitated to after hearing a presentation about the program at a school assembly, she said.

As a student who’s occasionally had problems with anger, Pamela said that learning the techniques she’s been taught in the program has helped her work through things in ways that aren’t destructive to anyone.

“I stay calm now,” she said. “I write or I listen to music.”


Helping young people find ways to deal with life’s challenges is the idea behind the Youth With Voices program, which is administered by the School of Social Administration’s Center for Social Policy and Community Development.

Because suicide is the third leading cause of death among people age 15–24, it was important to provide outreach to this age group from people they would understand — their peers, said Pat Gainey, Philadelphia regional coordinator for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

But it doesn’t stop there, Gainey said. In addition to working with the students and helping them with anger management and other coping skills, the Youth With Voices program also helps parents by giving them the tools to spot when their child is in trouble and where to find the help they might need.

Students in the program get together for training sessions that teach them the techniques they need to work with their classmates, said Lem Melles-Watts, assistant program coordinator and manager of the Youth With Voices program. Once they get through the program, they become Peer Navigators, and use their skills to help others, Melles-Watts said.

At a recent session, Omar Wells, the program’s mental health specialist, had the students do a series of role-playing exercises designed to illustrate the best ways to deal with someone who has thoughts of suicide. The students used the things they had been taught, such as talking a classmate through a situation, to try to move the person toward counseling and away from suicide.

While the program is meant to provide students with a means to help their peers with their problems, it has also provided them with ways to branch out.

“It’s helped me life-wise,” said Dewayne Daughtry, 18, a Peer Navigator who is headed to Louisiana State University in the fall to study electrical engineering. “I see things in a more adult way. It’s an experience that’s going to help me in college and beyond.”