We are geared up for the new school year!
The pandemic continues to make school “interesting” for young people and our many school-based Project Oz staff members. After a busy summer of planning and training, we are excited to head back into classrooms across McLean County and provide the support students need to weather these challenging transitions, connect with caring adults, and build brighter futures – now and all year long! Read on for update, back-to-school tips, upcoming events, and thoughts from retiring Prevention Educator, Lisa Soliday.
Youth Empowered Schools Goes Back to Class
Did you know that last year our Youth Empowered Schools (YES) staff in Bloomington High School, Normal Community High School, and Normal Community West High School collectively reached out to over 1,100 students to bridge the digital divide and help them re-engage in remote learning? Despite the challenges of COVID, YES staff are always ready to jump in wherever needed to help students achieve their goals in school and develop their full potential. We are thankful to our partners at the State Farm Foundation, District 87, and Unit 5 for their continued support of this program! This year we are excited to work with District 87 to expand the program and support students, families, and staff in three new schools through restorative practices: Bloomington Junior High, Irving Elementary, and Sheridan Elementary. Here are a few “first day” photos form our awesome new YES team members!
Helping Young People Cope with Back-to-School Anxiety
As we head back to school, many children and teens are unsure about how to feel. After so many months of virtual learning, changing schedules, and extra time at home, this is a big adjustment. Here are a few tips that can help you provide support as we return to school.
- Talk openly about how your child or teen is feeling, and validate their feelings. There is no wrong way to feel in this situation, and it’s okay if they feel anxious, afraid, or overwhelmed – and it’s also okay if they feel eager, relieved, and excited!
- Set a tone by approaching conversations with positivity and helping them consider how they could approach different challenges.
- Help them set small, achievable goals, especially if they feel overwhelmed.
- Prioritize their mental health and encourage them to let you know if they are struggling. It’s much harder for young people to learn when they are experiencing mental health challenges.
- Keep and eye out for warning signs of mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, such as changes in mood or behavior, withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, increased irritability, or physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches.
- Be ready to provide support if you notice that your child or teen is having a hard time. This could include checking in more regularly, doing activities together, or talking about how they feel. It could also include reaching out to resources like their teachers, school counselor, or pediatrician.
- Learn about local mental health options. If you’re looking for extra support and don’t know where to start, we recommend calling PATH Crisis Center at 2-1-1 to learn more about the resources that are available in our community. You can also reach out to Colleen (firstname.lastname@example.org), our mental health education coordinator at Project Oz, with questions about how to support a young person who might be struggling with their mental health.
Keys of Hope Dueling Piano Night for Suicide Prevention Returns
The dueling pianos are back! Our friends at the IIDA Illinois Central IL City Center are once again hosting the Keys of Hope dueling piano fundraiser to benefit our NAMI Ending the Silence (ETS) program. ETS is a mental health education and suicide prevention program that reaches students at all local public junior and senior high schools. The program encourages important conversations about mental health, de-stigmatizes mental illness, and empowers young people to ask for help. Please join us for a fun evening of entertainment, prizes, and laughter as you sing, dance, and clap along to audience favorites! (Tickets are limited based on gathering restrictions)
Date and Time: Friday, September 24th, 2021 ; 530-11 pm
Location: The Castle Theatre, Bloomington, IL
Celebrating Retiring Ozzer, Lisa Soliday!
After 15 years at Project Oz, Lisa Soliday, Prevention Educator Extraordinaire, is retiring this month. During her career, Lisa taught in-school substance use prevention education to more than 7,000 McLean County students and advised several prevention-focused youth groups. Lisa’s dedication to youth, energy, and spirit of fun are truly unmatched. She has also served as a mentor and cheerleader to many staff and her welcoming smile, kindness, and care for others helped shape the Oz culture. As she is wrapping up her time with us, we asked her to share some reflections on her career.
Q. What individual successes have been the most meaningful for you?
I am most proud of all the work I did with the different youth groups I advised over the years. I learned many new skills from the teens, was able to help their creative ideas come to fruition, and was energized when implementing events with them. Some of my favorites were: alcohol forum, flash mob at Intercity basketball game, mannequin challenge, If You Really Knew Me Commerical, Reverse Trick or Treat, Yoga/WERQ events, art mural, and Chalk the Walks.
Q. What agency achievements are you most proud of?
The growth that I have seen in our agency; the positive impact we have had on young peoples’ lives; the respect and reputation that Project Oz has in our community makes me really proud to be a part of the agency. I’m so very thankful for the leadership, and for how we have all handled the challenge of COVID fairly gracefully. I will miss the work, and especially all the terrific Ozzers who have made work a joy.
Q. What is your most memorable Oz moment?
The opportunity to work with Joel Bergner for Artolution on the Market Street Mural was quite memorable. It was pretty amazing to hear cars honking, cheering and yelling positive comments while we painted. It was exciting to bring something so beautiful to the people that live in the neighborhood. I think all of us who worked on it felt so proud. The work that Joel Bergner does around the world is inspiring, check it out: Artolution
Q. What was one of the most challenging mements in your career?
I’ve had a few! I do not like interviewing on TV, radio, with the newspaper, even for a training video (yuck) and I’ve had to do these a few times. It is not my strength. The year of COVID and video taping myself was especially challenging!
Q. What advice would you give to someone entering the prevention field today?
- It’s really important to establish good relationships with schools, law enforcement, and community members.
- Take every opportunity in trainings for professional development
- Be curios, research, be open to learning and hearing others ideas.
- If you don’t know something, it’s okay to say, “I’m not familiar with that, but I’ll do some research and get back to you.”
- Practice good self care so you are mentally and physically fit to bring your best self to your job, co-workers and students.
Q. In 5 words, why do you think universal prevention is important?
Prevention builds youths’ bright futures
Q. What are you looking forward to in retirement?
Lots of things! Pursuing some creative interests, like learning guitar, cooking & drawing; Being able to work exercise into my daily schedule; Spending more time with my sweet granddaughter; RE-potting and starting new houseplants; Traveling; Biking; Paddle boarding; Yoga; More time with family & friends; Annoying my husband by invading his personal space in the morning 🙂