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Local Groups Aim to Fill Social Services Gaps to Promote Mental Health

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, child advocates say mental health issues are continuing to impact young people in Naperville and DuPage County. So much so, social services organizations are grappling with how to bridge gaps in community support for struggling kids.

Strength in Numbers

Inside Out Club Founder and Executive Director Marion Ruthig says the collaboration that goes on among local nonprofits in these efforts is wonderful to see.

According to Ruthig, “I think we’re fortunate that we have a lot of organizations, and the Collaborative Youth Team that’s under the KidsMatter umbrella does bring those organizations together to help on some of these bigger projects. I know that youth mental health is one of the big projects that we’re going to be looking at and trying to address and tackle. … When we see gaps, we can come together and figure out who can help fill that gap. Is it something that Inside Out can do? Is it something the Alive Center can fill? How do we do that to serve our kids and families?”

At the Alive Center, students are encouraged to drop in when they need a safe space. They can also stop by and take part in tutoring, events and clubs.

Alive Center Chief Executive Officer Kandice Henning says the center is all about empowering kids to lead their best lives.

According to Henning, “The name ‘Alive’ is about what makes you come alive. Who are you? What are your gifts, your talents? What are you good at? Rather than comparing yourself to anybody else, who are you? It’s really just a safe place to explore that. So many adults don’t know their gifts and talents and who they are. So, to be able to provide that space for kids to be able to find that out or to lead a program, then it gains confidence in them. So, what we really strive for is bringing more confident kids and empowering kids out into the world.”

Pandemic Experience

17-year-old Kylie Taczynski, of Naperville, says she first dropped by the center about two years ago after changing schools and finding herself feeling isolated.

According to Taczynski, “It also happened to be that time right before the pandemic had started. I got kind of unlucky with that. So, the beginning was definitely tough. I’m more of a shy person. So, coming here where everyone was super welcoming was extremely helpful.”

Seeking Added Support

But not all kids can be supported in the same ways. Among the difficulties some families are having is finding counseling services for their kids.

That’s where organizations like the Inside Out Club hope to make a difference.

According to Ruthig, “We work with little kids to help them understand, you know, kindness to self is just as important as kindness to others. Mental health is just as important as physical health. I think during a crisis reminding yourself about gratitude and kindness and just getting outside yourself can be a really powerful thing for kids and adults alike.”

Though the Inside Out Club doesn’t provide counseling support, it does offer a variety of services and programs, ranging from volunteer opportunities and community engagement to on-demand access to books, videos and projects.

14-year-old Bri Ellis, of Naperville, says it’s been difficult dealing with all the pandemic restrictions, but the Alive Center has been helpful for her.

According to Ellis, “I love it here because there’s a lot of people here that are very supportive and there’s a lot of things to do that are very interactive.”

Moving Forward

Being engaged, connected and open to new things is what local child advocates say are keys to promoting positive mental health.

Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.

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