Hang Out with Youth M.O.V.E. Washington County

"Hang Out" with Youth M.O.V.E. Washington County
by Jennifer Leese

Youth M.O.V.E. Washington County held its first youth group meeting on January 16th and their second on the 30th. Youth attendees included two students from Washington County Public Schools and several students from the Oak Hill House School.
Brooke Kerbs, director of child and adolescent services at the Washington County Mental Health Authority, Inc., provided a brief presentation about the history of Youth M.O.V.E. and then facilitated a brainstorming session.
While working for the Core Service Agency for Washington County, she was approached by Innovations Institute (a division of the Child Psychiatry Department at University of Maryland) to write a proposal for how we could utilize some money to start Youth M.O.V.E in Washington County. Youth M.O.V.E. stands for Youth Motivating Others through Voices of Experience. I have always felt that youth who have been involved with the "system" have experiences that we as service providers could really learn from. We often forget to ask the youth what would work for them. Instead, we TELL them what will work for them."
During the January 16th meeting, youth attendees were encouraged to think about ideas for providing outreach to other youth who have been involved with the Department of Social Services, Department of Juvenile Services, and/or mental health systems, as well as, young people who know someone who has been involved with one of these agencies and are interested in improving these systems.
Kathleen Phillips, family navigator for the organization initially began with the organization because from her office, she was the only employee wit a child who meets the age requirements of the organization. "I now have a vested interest in the group as I have a 15-year-old son Tyler, who is diagnosed with Autism and anxiety rules our lives. I wanted to find out what other teenagers are dealing with and find out what they want changed or done in our community."
At Youth M.O.V.E., Phillips works as a Parent-to-Parent Support person. She helps families find proper agencies, resources and referrals in the community. "As part of my position with the Family Network I have to participate on other boards and committees in the community."
The youth leaders agree that the most effective way to reach youth is through media such as music and the Internet. Youth M.O.V.E. has some funding at its disposal for outreach activities and mental health stigma reduction campaigns.
Chad Whitmore, one of the youth leaders of Youth M.O.V.E., expressed that he was "glad to see the youth come out and that he was impressed with some of the creative ideas they had."
Youth M.O.V.E. is a national movement that promotes the development of youth leaders and their involvement in shaping mental health services for young consumers. With support from a grant from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Maryland established the first state chapter of Youth M.O.V.E. Thirteen Maryland counties are participating in implementing Youth M.O.V.E. programs. "Washington County is honored to be chosen as one of the first jurisdictions in the country to have our own Youth MOVE group. This county is rich in many virtues and we hope that Youth MOVE can grasp the heartstrings of service providers in our community and work together to make the system as youth-friendly as possible," said Brooke.
"Ultimately, I hope that once youth get involved and see that they really can make a difference, I think this group will take off on its own. I think my ongoing job will be to help ready the community to hear what the youth have to say. Not only to hear the youth voice, but also to LISTEN to the youth experience and utilize that information to better the system," said Kerbs. I would like to see them become more immersed in the community. It would be wonderful to see youth participating regularly on community boards. I also think it is important that we keep the message of how important the youth voice is in the forefront of people's minds. We should not be conducting meetings about youth without them present. For instance, IEP meetings at the school should not occur unless the adolescent is there to present his/her own perspective about their plan. In addition, I believe that Youth MOVE can help the mental health, Department of Social Services, Department of Juvenile Services communities begin to see youth as equal partners in the treatment process."
The youth leaders will continue to participate in various trainings to help them enhance their advocacy skills with the hopes of recruiting new members along the way.
Youth M.O.V.E. on the MOVE
A few projects are planned to help raise awareness about mental health. "We chose mental health because often young people are involved with one of the services mentioned above due to their mental health needs." The organization will also be conducting trainings to help teach youth how to make their voices heard in a way that captures the attention of their audience. They also want to launch a youth mental health support group, a website for Youth M.O.V.E. Washington County where teens can tell their stories and have a music/visual arts outlet.
"The biggest change I'm hoping Youth MOVE can help with is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Beyond that, I also hope that we can start seeing youth as equal partners in the treatment process," said Kerbs.
Kathleen Phillips feels that the most "voiced by teens in any system of care is that the teens need to have more involvement in the decisions that are being made. When they get to go where they decide, that have that vested interest to succeed because they made the choice. They will try harder to make the situation work because their decision and opinion are on the line.
How Can Your Teens Get Involved
Students can attend the meetings. Currently they are twice a month and meet at the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families at 33 W. Washington Street in Hagerstown. If people would like more information, they can contact me at brookek@wcmha.org or 301-739-2490 ext. 12.
"Youth have great knowledge that is not frequently tapped into," said Brooke. "It seems our society is programmed to think that your wisdom is directly linked to how old you are. Young adults have great hearts and want to help make things better for those who come after them. I think the idea that they can utilize their own experience to help someone else is what draws youth to this process."
So, go "Hang Out" with the Youth M.O.V.E. of Washington County. Relax, eat some snacks, and talk about your experiences. You won't regret it.