A WellPower Program Breaking Barriers with Youth Connection

As the pandemic disrupted traditional avenues of social development for teens and young adults, one WellPower program stepped in to offer crucial support.

Emerson St. for Teens & Young Adults provides a supportive community for young people ages 15-26 seeking connection and belonging. This inclusive, welcoming place offers a variety of activities and services to address the unique challenges faced by this population including academic pressures, employment uncertainty and the transition into adulthood.

Supporting the mental health and well-being of teens and young adults is crucial. Half of all mental health challenges emerge during or before adolescence, and an overwhelming three-quarters before the age of 25. With this population experiencing the highest rate of any mental health concerns compared to adults, it is imperative that we address the needs of this population. Young people in this age group often lack appropriate resources and guidance as they are no longer considered children but may not have access to specialized mental health services.

Intentional and Trauma-Informed

Everything about the Emerson St. program is intentional, including the building itself. Rather than the generic clinical office young people are traditionally confronted with when receiving mental health services, Emerson St. participants enter a Victorian style house in Denver with welcoming staff dedicated to helping them feel comfortable in an unfamiliar place.

The trauma-informed approach of the staff normalizes mental health challenges and allows young people to interact with others who have similar experiences. This innovative service delivery helps young people feel relaxed and welcome in an environment that might otherwise feel uncomfortable or overwhelming. From this place of safety, participants are more able to engage fully and successfully in a range of unique services.

Supporting well-being

Free groups and outings offered by Emerson St. are open to all youth between the ages of 15-26, even if the individual is not engaged in clinical services at WellPower. The program offers a diverse array of well-being groups and sober activities from cooking to art to an improv group and so much more. Check out the August calendar here.

“We offer a pretty varied set of activities that allows people to explore different aspects of themselves and different interests that they might have,” said Evan Klein, LPC, prevention specialist. “The group setting is really important with this population. It helps connect people who are experiencing similar life events and allows them to feel less alone in what they are struggling with.”

Klein leads the music group, where he teaches about rhythm, time and basic music theory and occasionally leads drum circles.

“Playing an instrument is really its own language or conversation and it’s a great opportunity to expand the minds and communication styles of our participants,” said Klein.

Getting into the community

Monthly community outings offer unique opportunities like going to a musical, an amusement park or a professional sporting event, which many participants have never experienced.

These outings also provide opportunities for participants to feel a sense of belonging and reduce feelings of isolation. “Some of our youth have trouble getting themselves out of their home or struggle to know how to put themselves out there,” said Klein. “Our prevention services are a good jumping off point to do this and the hope is for our young people to start learning how to do this in their own lives.”

One of the groups recently worked with a print shop to make t-shirts for Emerson St. “The shop owner guided us on how to print a shirt as well as the ins and out of running a print shop,” commented Klein. “This was a great experience for our youth, especially those who are interested in graphic design as they left with a connection and deeper understanding of this industry.”

Building relationships

In addition to activities and outings, Emerson St. emphasizes relationship building, which is particularly vital for this age group. Through healthy relationships, participants gain emotional support, personal growth opportunities and the development of essential interpersonal skills necessary for their future.  

Emerson St. staff model what relationship building looks like out in the community and through their relationships with each other. “Some of our youth may feel socially anxious or haven’t had an opportunity to develop skills on how to form a relationship or start a conversation,” said Klein. “They may also struggle with appropriate social behaviors and our group settings provide a safe space where they can make mistakes and we can gently redirect them.”

Having strong relationship building and interpersonal skills is also important for employment and education opportunities in the future. To help participants translate these skills into professional networking and educational or vocational opportunities, Emerson St. offers supported education and employment services. “It’s been great to have this time and space to explore different options for career paths, and to process what the journey has been as it unfolds,” said one Emerson St. participant. “I’ve been taking deliberate steps working toward who and what I want to be while still honoring who and what I am.”