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Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico launches $4.5M mental health program  

With an investment of more than $4.5 million in federal funds from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the nonprofit Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico, in collaboration with 13 partners, recently introduced the AWARE project. 

The initiative is designed to create a sustainable infrastructure that will initially offer mental health programs and services in five schools in Arecibo, Bayamón, San Lorenzo and San Juan, focusing on child and youth well-being in Puerto Rico from a “multi-level systemic perspective,” according to the related news release.

AWARE aims to forge strategic partnerships with the Education Department, the Mental Health and Anti-addiction Services Administration (ASSMCA, in Spanish), community mental health service providers, school personnel, community organizations, families and youth. 

Its implementation focuses on advocacy, awareness, prevention, intervention and resilience activities related to mental health, ensuring that school-aged youth have access to and are connected to suitable and effective services. Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico strives to foster healthy social and emotional development and prevent violence in school settings.

“For 56 years, the organization has been serving the most underserved communities, from Mayagüez to Vieques, where nine out of 10 of our participants live below federal poverty levels and in highly violent environments and communities. Our commitment to reducing poverty and improving their conditions and those of their families led us to strategically elevate the promotion of socioemotional well-being. To achieve this, we underwent a process of multiple analyses and began by developing, structuring and strengthening our social development component,” stated Olga Ramos-Carrasquillo, president of Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico.

She explained that, in that process, the organization recognized the necessity of developing socioemotional skills in participants and their families to address adverse childhood experiences, “trauma sequelae, exposure to violence, positive parenting skills and emotional intelligence.” 

Ramos-Carrasquillo continued, “This effort is directly linked to the educational aspect of our participants, as addressing their socioeconomic, socioemotional and mental health needs from an inclusive and safe space impacts their academic achievement. Through this service model, we are supporting our participants and their families in developing and strengthening educational, economic and social skills that enhance their quality of life and ensure social mobility.”

Xavier Huertas, manager of the Boys & Girls Club of Puerto Rico’s social pillar, remarked, “Our programs and educational, recreational, sports and wellness experiences, as well as the socioemotional support and food assistance we offer to over 12,000 children and youth annually from our 18 service centers, have led to: 95% of our participants feeling that our centers reinforce their emotional security, 95% expressing that the experiences and learning with us help them maintain high expectations, and 93% feeling they are heard and that their ideas matter.

“These data and the reality our youth are experiencing drove us to equip them with the necessary tools to strengthen the socioemotional development they need as future leaders. The AWARE project marks an important step in Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico’s commitment to youth mental health as a core part of our strategic vision. Along with our 13 partners and those who will continue to join, we are building a healthier and more resilient future for our community.”

The project aims to:

• Raise awareness of mental health and psychosocial needs among school-aged youth.

• Increase mental health knowledge among those who interact with youth to identify signs and symptoms of mental health needs and substance use/abuse.

• Encourage resilience and mental health well-being in all school-aged youth.

• Provide appropriate support and intensive services based on individual needs.

• Connect youth with behavioral problems and their families with necessary services.

• Improve access to culturally relevant activities and services suitable for trauma-informed development.

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