A teen-run mental health organization wants to help youth

Story by CBC Kids News • Published 2023-01-16 07:00

Program offers free Zoom workshops about self-care and mental health

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Some teenagers and kids have had a rough transition back to in-person school and life this year.

Though things have conceivably gone “back to normal,” it can be hard to manage the difficult balance of school, extracurricular activities and obligations to your family and friends.

Geertika Jeyaganesha, 17, noticed this first-hand among her peers.

“People in my age group have been affected by anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness,” Geertika said in an interview with CBC Kids News.

In August 2022, the Grade 12 student from Markham, Ontario, decided to help.

She started an organization called Nurtured Youth Community that provides free virtual resources to teenagers to help them cope with difficult feelings.

“There are students who were so focused before, but everything changed,” she said. “So many things we were good at doing before are a lot harder to do now.”

By hosting regular free sessions with wellness experts online, Geertika said she hopes to bridge the gap for those youth who don’t get the support they need at home.

For some kids, regular therapy isn’t easy to access because it’s expensive and often requires parental consent.

A graphic design that features a drawing of a plant being watered with the words Nurtured Youth Community: You don’t have to do it alone.

A graphic design scheme, created by Stephanie Slen, that features Nurtured Youth Community’s slogan. (Image submitted by Geertika Jeyaganesha)

“Unfortunately, not everyone has a family that’s understanding of issues like mental health,” said Geertika.

“So I thought, ‘There needs to be something, so this accessibility gap for minors is bridged.’’’

How Nurtured Youth Community was created

With the help of her friend Stephanie Slen, 17, who works on the organization’s graphic design and community outreach, Geertika founded Nurtured Youth Community.

First, she started an Instagram page and a LinkedIn account.

After getting advice from colleagues at a non-profit where she was interning, Geertika began messaging mental health professionals on LinkedIn to see if they would want to offer advice to youth for free.

She talked to her friends and kids in her community to see what subjects they would want to hear about and added an anonymous comment form so anyone could weigh in.

Nurtured Youth Community now hosts two free Zoom workshops a month guided by registered therapists and mental health experts volunteering their services.

All sessions are virtual, so anyone can sign up and attend.

The workshops are taught by experts like Jimmy Cabrera Jr., a reiki practitioner and psychotherapist.

His recent session, “Befriending Your Emotions,” focused on how youth can “listen to the messages their emotions are trying to send them” by using things like meditation and breathing exercises.

Another workshop, “Working Past and Growing From My Childhood,” was led by Kaitlyn Sullivan, which addressed her experiences growing up in the foster care system.

At the end of each session, attendees have the opportunity to have their personal questions answered anonymously by the guest speaker.

An Instagram page featuring a picture of a smiling man. It says: Nurtured Youth Community: Befriending Your Emotions by Jimmy Cabrera Jr, Psychotherapist, Reiki Practitioner. Date: December 5, Time 8 PM EST, 5PM PST. The Instagram post says: Participants will learn to listen to the messages their emotions are trying to send them. Guided breath awareness, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, as well as creative journal prompts will be included. Swipe for more information on our speaker!

An example of one of Nurtured Youth Community’s recent workshops, which took place on Dec. 5 last year. (Image credit: Nurtured Youth Community/Instagram)

Geertika said it’s important for youth to engage on personal issues with adults who aren’t their teachers or parents.

“Sometimes, you just need a reality check,” said Geertika.

Nurtured Youth’s breakout moment of 2022

While it’s only been operating for four months, Nurtured Youth Community was awarded a $5,000 prize from skincare company OxyCanada for being a “face of change” this past November.

Winning the award was a vote of confidence for Geertika, who manages the group’s administrative duties alongside a heavy course load in her last year of high school.

A colourful graphic featuring a smiling young woman’s face. The text says: Oxy Prize: Grand Prize Winner, #FaceOfChange: Geertika J., Nurtured Youth Community.”

In 2022, after a lot of online campaigning, Nurtured Youth Community was awarded a $5,000 prize from OxyCanada for being a ‘face of change.’ The prize money will go back into the organization. (Image submitted by Geertika Jeyaganesha)

“At the end of a session, when the Zoom chat overflows with thank you messages, or someone reaches out to say, ‘I really needed this,’ it means a lot,” said Geertika.

As Nurtured Youth continues to grow, Geertika said she is arranging the first in-person workshop in 2023, at a location still to be determined.

As attendance is steadily climbing, she said she wants the organization to spread beyond her and Stephanie’s individual networks, so it can have the same name recognition as Kids Help Phone.

“I want people to associate it with comfort and safety,” said Geertika.

“When you’re going through something tough, you can say, ‘Oh, at least Nurtured Youth Community is there to support me through this.’”

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