By Kate Jolley
Originally published in The Florida Times-Union
One can argue it is more important than ever to fight the stigma of mental health. That is just what Katie Kilpatrick and Katherine Sanchez set out to do with their Upstream initiative entry, Project S.H.O.U.T (Spreading Hope through Openness, Understanding and Truth).
United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream initiative challenges college students between ages of 18 and 24 to dream up an idea for social change in areas such as education, financial stability and health.
Both University of North Florida students, Kilpatrick and Sanchez have had personal experiences related to the stigma of mental health so the topic was near and dear to their hearts.
“We’ve both had our own experiences on how paralyzing stigma can be in regards to mental health,” said Kilpatrick. “We believe raising awareness will alleviate that stigma.”
The goal of Project S.H.O.U.T. is to challenge preconceived perceptions and break down barriers that kids might have about mental health by focusing on what they call the three Ps: self-perception, peer perception and parental perception.
The two college students decided to focus on eighth graders after their primary research pointed to this age range as the best time to begin peer-to-peer conversations focusing on combatting the stigma surrounding mental health.
Once their initial application was selected to move on to the second round – which involved presenting to a panel of judges – Kilpatrick and Sanchez were matched with Stein Fellowship coach, Marcus Rowe.
Rowe set up a practice-round presentation for the young women to present their idea to a group of his friends. Kilpatrick and Sanchez said his leadership was integral in helping form more direction and a better approach to presenting their program.
“We kept telling ourselves this isn’t about how well we speak, it is about the future impact we’re going to have with this project,” said Kilpatrick.
The two were able to play off of each other’s strengths – Sanchez’s factual approach and Kilpatrick’s emotional approach – during their presentation to win over the judges and secure second place and $2,500 to launch their program.
“We are both very, very grateful,” said Kilpatrick. “We poured all we had into this proposal, and we are now going to be able to see our idea become a reality.”
Working through Team Up, an after-school program that provides educational and enrichment opportunities to youth, Project S.H.O.U.T. will launch this fall at Arlington Middle School, where Kilpatrick and Sanchez will hold listening sessions with eighth-grade students.
“We don’t know the needs of the school yet so we plan to hear directly from the students what they want to learn,” said Sanchez. “Team Up is 100 percent optional so we want to make it something they want to do, not something they have to do.”
During these listening sessions, the two also plan to introduce some lessons to see how the students react and gather information to tailor the curriculum to their specific needs.
Though their work together is far from over, the two young women have already learned a lot about themselves and each other during their participation in United Way’s Upstream. They said learned to recognize and respond to each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Kilpatrick and Sanchez agree the Upstream competition is as much about personal growth as it is a networking experience and an opportunity to initiate social change.
“My definition of success so far has been turning in assignments on time or passing tests, but I know that is going to have to change after college,” said Sanchez. “So I want my definition of success to be positively influencing everyone I come across.”
To learn about United Way of Northeast Florida’s Upstream initiative and how you can get involved, visit unitedwaynefl.org/upstream. Applications close Oct. 10.
This year’s Upstream finalists will be announced at the Innovation Connection Conference present by JAXCoE at the Prime Osborn Convention Center Oct. 15.
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