COVID-Inspired Art Engages YouThrive Students
The closure of Marin and Sonoma schools deeply impacted Side by Side’s YouThrive program. Embedded in middle and high schools, the program works with 12 to 18-year-olds engaged in troubling behavior and engages them in high-impact groups during the school semester to address anger management, life skills mentoring, gang prevention, and restorative justice.

“Once the shutdown started, we didn’t have time to spare in working with youth,” said program manager Adrian Maldonado. “Being socially isolated could easily throw a wrench in their progress. Virtual groups and phone/text check-ins began right away to stay connected with our young people.”

However, the success of YouThrive depends on rapport between the youth and staff. Virtual groups were awkward at first, both for the youth and for the adults, and attendance was much lower than usual. In addition, there were other serious challenges: access and participation.
  • Access issues were addressed first. Side by Side’s Relief Fund was used to procure devices and hot spots for any youth that didn’t have them.
  • Participation was encouraged through a COVID-19 related art contest with a $50 gift card incentive for the contest winner. Youth were challenged to depict how the situation is affecting them or how they find hope or strength. The entries truly show the depth of feeling, as well as hope and resiliency. A book club was also started to encourage reflection and engagement and an online FIFA soccer tournament brought other youth together.
During virtual groups, youth talk about what’s helping them right now (music or exercise) or use the safe space to address challenges. Playlists for studying, relaxing, or exercising are shared by group members. One youth felt comfortable enough to reveal troubling behavior he had engaged in, and sought support from the group. 
The largest and most common stressor the team is hearing are the financial challenges impacting youth from their parents being out of work. 

A close second is a lack of personal space. “I get more irritated, I lash out more – and then I feel badly that I’m not dealing with my family in a positive way,” confided one youth. Many struggle with teaching themselves and worry about grades.

“We try to help them focus on what they do have control over, such as setting a schedule, completing their schoolwork, and getting outside,” said Maldonado.
Over the past seven weeks, the YouThrive participants have realized how much school is part of their identity. In addition to learning math, science, history, English, etc., they get to socialize in a way that you can’t through technology alone.

Over the summer, the YouThrive staff plans to continue to engage with their clients through virtual groups, additional book clubs, and outreach to parents of participating youth. Ultimately, there is a future beyond the pandemic for all the participating young people, and YouThrive will be alongside our clients throughout that journey.
“I grew up in El Salvador in middle of gangs and abuse and my self behavior wasn’t that good. YouThrive have help by make me feel loved and giving me advice for my life and help me on job situations. I have learn new things that I’ll used in a future like how a resume supposed to look, how to behave in hard situation and how to control my anger. When I need someone or advice about something I know I can call our leader of YouThrive and he would help me. I am really thankful for that. I have change a lot cuz of this group..” – Darlene, YouThrive participant
How You Can Help
Your generosity today will help Side by Side ride out financial challenges that include purchases of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff, reductions in expected revenue from canceled fundraising events, and billing uncertainties due to necessary changes in our program services . Your contribution will also provide resources to support YouThrive clients who may not have the internet access that they need or assist their families who are struggling to pay cell phone bills.
It's times like these when standing together is so important. Please donate now to our Relief Fund. 

THANK YOU!!