Recent reports have shown that Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation for youth mental health, and Knox County has limited access to mental health resources for people of color.
To start to alleviate concerns for some families, the city of Knoxville has awarded two organizations $20,000 to kickstart programs that provide mental health interventions to Knoxville’s kids and their families. It’s a way work toward healthy solutions for kids.
City officials are calling on the community to join in their efforts, too. The Mayor’s Social Innovation Challenge asks local organizations to team up and develop creative and innovative projects that address the mental health needs for kids and teens, and their caregivers.
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After pitching their projects to a panel of five, Emerald Youth Foundation and SEEED were the inaugural winners of the city initiative.
“Our focus is to create a valuable program for parents and kids to be able to strengthen their bond through communication, because sometimes communication is a barrier for households,” Obayana Ajanaku, who’s partnered with SEEED, told Knox News.
“Our research and our study through this project will give us something valuable that we can use in our programs and workshops with other programs.”
SEEED has partnered with Ajanaku’s Drums Up, Guns Down program, Shade Tree Therapy and Divine Wellness Now to design an eight-week program for families to connect and heal through music, rhythms and therapeutic activities.
“Knowing that the city of Knoxville recognizes the need for us to pay attention to these issues and is willing to put resources towards the work that we’ve been trying to do every day, it’s very meaningful for our organizations,” said Chrystal Armstrong Brown of Emerald Youth Foundation.
Emerald has joined forces with the Harmony Family Center, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Knoxville Falcons Youth Organization to equip coaches with effective therapeutic techniques and to use sports as a way to help youth identify and work through mental health and behavioral challenges.
Brown says the initiative will be up and running by the fall, but Emerald Youth Sports has yearlong programs available that apply similar goals through sports.
SEEED and Emerald were chosen among a pool of 13 applicants who applied for the grants allotted in three categories. Three or more organizations were required to work together to develop a single initiative to be considered for the $20,000 grant.
But there’s another $20,000 up for grabs. The Social Innovation Challenge review committee did not advance any organizations in the third category, community resilience, so that is still open.
Applications are due by July 11. A panel will choose the winner and the funds will be available at the end of August.
Email Kathy Mack of the city of Knoxville at firstname.lastname@example.org or Torrie Boggs of the United Way at email@example.com for application details.
Organizations that previously applied but were not awarded the first round of grant funding can re-apply with different or improved proposals.
Mack, Knoxville’s community engagement coordinator and mental health advocate, helped conceive the Social Innovation Challenge.
“A lot of times when there’s crisis or different things take place, people (say) ‘What is the city going to do?’ and I’m like, ‘No, what are we going to do? How can we work together to come up with some solutions because the solutions are in the community.'”
Mack encourages parents and caregivers not to ignore the signs if they notice behavioral or mood changes in their child. Open communication and trust with adult figures like school counselors, teachers, and coaches is key. And normalizing mental health conversation with peers will help teens deal with mental challenges.
Families should be able to join Emerald and SEEED’s projects this fall. Check emeraldyouth.org and seeedknox.org and their social media platforms for registrations and updates.