Peer-led “Sources of Strength” program get renewed funding

As part of the Johnston Community School District’s focus on student mental health and well-being, an innovative peer-led social network at Johnston High School recently received enough funding for two years’ worth of programming.

Sources of Strength is a research-based program designed to utilized peer-led social networks to positively impact norms and culture related to mental health awareness and suicide prevention. Since spring 2016 the JHS group “Students 4 Change” led these peer efforts within the high school; Sources of Strength will expand upon their work and training.

Young adults participating in group activities as part of a training.

Students participated in a variety of team-building exercises at the Fall 2017 Sources of Strength peer training.

“Students told building and district administrators they wanted to increase awareness around mental health stigmas and student suicides,” said Chris Wilson, JCSD student well-being coordinator and Students 4 Change advisor. “The students led this effort to start the group. Since that time, they have participated in training, presented educational sessions to their peers, developed a suicide prevention video, attended local suicide presentation conferences, and sponsored student activities.”

In order to expand the reach of Students 4 Change, students in the group wanted to add a peer leadership component of roughly 50 students who use their leadership qualities and social influence to create strength-based campaigns to change social norms that may negatively impact the mental health and well-being of Johnston students.

Enter Sources of Strength. Through this training in the fall of 2017, ten JCSD staff members (adult sponsors) and 66 students in grades 8-12 participated in the certified Sources of Strength training, learning about mental health concerns and suicide prevention.

“It was a powerful day for everyone who participated,” said Wilson. “To see this outpouring of support and interest from students is really something. They asked for it and it’s our job to provide the resources to help them better connect with their peers in order to erase stigmas surrounding mental health. Who better to be able to effectively lead campaigns and work these messages into the everyday routines of student life?”

The Sources of Strength program requires a two-year implementation of the project to create sustainability.  Once the two years are complete, the district will be able to continue implementing the project with a negligible yearly materials cost and an adjusted student training schedule.  Both the two-year implementation and yearly materials thereafter come at a cost. It was an expense the Johnston Community School Foundation was eager to assume.

“The Foundation readily supports the efforts of the district to focus on student well-being and mental health,” said Josh Willis, Johnston Community School Foundation executive director. “When Chris submitted the grant request, we were happy to do our part to find the funding sources for the initial training and subsequent years of continuation.”

The Foundation, along with Wilson, were able to secure a $5,500 grant from the Cameron Carico +10 Foundation and a $5,000 grant from Unity Point Health. Additional funding dollars were provided from the district’s transportation cost savings fund.

“Addressing the well-being of Johnston is a priority for the district and the community,” Wilson said. “We are thrilled to have the support of local entities and the Foundation to make Sources of Strength a regular part of our conversations in our schools.”

Group photo of students who participated in the Souces of Strength training.

Sixty-six students in grades 8-12 were trained in the Sources of Strength peer mental health program this past fall.