Lexington Youth and Family Services (LYFS) Sponsors Sources of Strength Program
By Bea Mah Holland, EdD, MSW
LYFS Board Member and SOS Adult Advisor
Lexington and SOS’s beginnings
Last fall, when Lexington Youth and Family Services committed to hosting Sources of Strength (SOS), a resilience-building program, seven smart and energetic LYFS Youth Board members identified diverse groups at Lexington High School and their leaders, then actively recruited them to attend a daylong training event. Last November 46 LHS students and 13 Adult Advisors—a mix of community and school adults who have a relational connectivity with students—spent a fun and powerful day learning how to help others and more consciously use and further develop their own Sources of Strength.
SOS, a preventive program with proven results, increases teens’ connections with adults, builds resilience, and develops protective factors called Sources of Strength for navigating adolescence and life. “This is really the first peer-leader program that has shown impact on school-wide coping norms and influence on youth connectedness,” according to University of Rochester psychiatry professor and researcher Peter Wyman. SOS is presently on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), the gold standard of prevention programs in the U.S.
The LHS SOS Peer Leaders have already accomplished much. Through peer-to peer contact and messaging on Facebook and Instagram, they encourage each other to activate and mobilize at least three or four of their Sources of Strength, knowing that having several strengths is more powerful than one. SOS is now in 250 schools and communities in over 20 states, is one of the nation’s most rigorously researched peer leader programs, and has been the subject of research and evaluation efforts at universities, including Stanford and Johns Hopkins. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is currently funding a six-year randomized study of SOS to measure the impact of 1,500 Peer Leaders on 15,000 adolescents in more than 40 high schools.
SOS’s Mission and Method
Although intervening in crisis situations and making lifesaving connections has been a hallmark of SOS, the ultimate mission of SOS is upstream: prevention of the very onset of suicidal thinking and suicidal behavior, and attention to other factors such as substance abuse, depression, bullying, and violence. As was stated by one community, “Hope, Health, and Strength messages are developed with local voices and faces, saturating our school and community with stories of resiliency instead of messages of trauma.” November, Scott LoMurray, the founder’s son, masterfully trained 59 Lexingtonions.
Most schools have used less time-consuming approaches such as assemblies and presentations. However, there is now agreement that any sustained effort must include adults talking with kids; since the kids often have the best information, students must be part of the intervention and not just its target. And in several communities, relational connections that use teams of peer leaders mentored by adult advisors to change peer social norms have created a cultural shift to a safer environment. Destructive behaviors are lessening because of a contagion of strength.
Lexington SOS Vision
With the committed and creative leadership of Lexington LYFS Adult and Youth Board members, together with the energy and dedication of the developing peer-to-peer social network, it seems possible to positively change Lexington youth norms and culture. This collaborative effort is supported by the schools, town, and many community groups and, with continued support, it could become a comprehensive wellness program impacting many people and touching every corner of our community.
The authors are indebted to SOS for permission to incorporate their material in this article. For further information, please access Sources of Strength website, https://sourcesofstrength.org.
About Lexington Youth And Family Services
Located at First Parish Church
(private entrance on right side of church)
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA 02421
Call or Text: 781-862-0330
LYFS is a safe and confidential place to talk and get support. If you or someone you know is having a hard time – feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed; using/abusing drugs and alcohol; having trouble at home; having suicidal thoughts, come in and talk to us! We will listen and can help.
LYFS is located on the side of First Parish Church on the Lexington Battle Green. Open every Friday from 3 pm to 6 pm (September – June) or by appointment. We have a private entrance, office and waiting area, and offer confidential therapy to teens free of cost!
How is LYFS funded? LYFS receives funds from private contributors in the community and grants from the Foundation for MetroWest and CHNA 15. It is a 501(3)(c) tax deductible organization.
INTERESTED IN CONTRIBUTING?
Make checks out and mail to:
Lexington Youth and Family Services
c/o First Parish Church / 7 Harrington Road / Lexington, MA 02421
For questions please email our Treasurer: Bill Blout, at BBlout@LYFSInc.org
What are your Sources of Strength?
In January, during an LHS lunch hour, SOS Peer Leaders provided the opportunity for over 100 students to make individual Source of Strength posters, be photographed, and have the photos be posted in high-traffic locations, both on site and online.
“I thought it was really great to see
that people were so motivated by
their own passions and hobbies.”
“It was really cool seeing everyone from
the high school joining
on a project we worked hard to create.”
By Logan Wells, LHS Student
LYFS Youth Board Member and SOS Peer Leader
Lexington High School Lunchroom, January 8th
LHS students curiously walk into the lunchroom, wondering why there are so many people huddled around a table—some laughing with their friends, while others are stopping for a second and thinking before writing on paper. Upon closer look, they see that these students are actually writing their own Sources of Strength, then having a picture taken of them holding their signs. As the months roll by, students will see pictures of themselves and their peers with their Sources of Strength in the local newspaper and the LHS Gazette, on social media, and in the halls of LHS, reminding them of the many people who are in the community they can go to if they need help or just want someone to talk to.
SOS Projects and Training
The SOS Poster Project—students making Sources of Strength posters and sharing them with the school and the community—is just one of the projects in the ambitious campaign of support created by the Peer Leaders of Sources of Strength. It first began last November in the newly renovated Lexington Community Center where a group of 46 LHS students, selectively chosen by their peers as influential in the community, met for their first Sources of Strength daylong seminar.
SOS is safe and trustworthy. The training is both fun and strengthening, non-threatening and informative. We came to realize that everyone goes through both good and tough times and, as a result of the training, we are now better equipped to connect friends to the help they want and need.
We learned the importance of having a support system, and how friends, relatives, and even pets could have a lasting impact on our lives. We learned that even top specialists in their fields said they had mentors to look towards while they grew up, mostly for support and guidance. We learned how a community can do the same thing but, instead of the lucky few having access to a mentor, there would be an ecosystem that would support all of us on our growth path or whenever we needed help.
However, those who attended the seminar were not just students. There were also adult volunteers interested in making Lexington a more supportive community. The goal of SOS is not just to help the high school become a more supportive system, but the Lexington community as a whole. All of the attendees worked for eight hours, with no loss of energy as the hours went by—all 46 LHS Peer Leaders and 13 Adult Advisors stayed for the entire day. Everyone participated equally, whether it was in something silly such as team charades, or talking about who they look for when they themselves need help.
One of the Adult Advisors, Jamie Katz, graduated from LHS in 1969 and has a daughter who graduated from LHS just last year. He found both the mission and the training compelling.
“None of us can go it alone,” Katz said. “We all need our family and friends, our pets, or our passions to help us find joy, laughter, and strength. It’s painful to see our teenagers lose sight of their Sources of Strength, to see them feel so isolated and alone. Even the phones they use endlessly often increase the alienation and pressure they feel. We need to remind them, again and again, that their friends will be there for them, their dogs need them, their soccer teams rely on them, and their parents love and will support them. And the teens need to teach us how we can best help them, not further burden them.”
What’s Next for SOS Lexington?
Since then, everyone in the group has been determined to make a difference and allow for everyone in Lexington to have, and understand, that they have access to someone whenever they want it. There is a planned “Challenge Day” at LHS in a few weeks, where another 100 LHS students and 25 teachers will get an experience akin to the one SOS had in November. This will allow for even more support in LHS, especially with the teachers participating, who students often spend more time with than their parents.
LYFS Director Erin M. Deery, LICSW, has these thoughts on the future of SOS: “I hope that SOS continues to grow in Lexington and that these messages of hope and strength just become part of the way things are done in this community. We have all seen how communities come together after a tragedy, but what if in Lexington we came together to prevent tragedy? I hope that we can repeat the SOS training annually and continue to strengthen partnerships with LHS, other community agencies, places of worship, businesses, and organizations. We want to change social norms, increase help seeking, and promote strength and wellness not just for teenagers, but for the entire Lexington community. “
So don’t be surprised if you soon see SOS around Lexington, such as in Lexington Center. We are planning to team with Lexington businesses in order to send the message that SOS is a community-wide project, and we intend to help every person included in it.