May 15, 2024 - Health

Exclusive: New program creates "youth corps" for mental health

Illustration of two brains overlapping to form a Venn diagram

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Hundreds of young adults will be trained to help their peers access mental health care and other supports in a first-of-its-kind service program aimed at addressing the youth mental health crisis.

Why it matters: Backers of the new Youth Mental Health Corps, which is funded by a mix of private and public dollars, also hope to create a new talent pipeline to address shortages of mental health workers.

  • "Kids can relate more to experiences and challenges faced by other teenagers," said Colorado Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, whose state will be one of the first to implement the program this fall. "It fosters trust and comfort in seeking mental health support."

How it works: Young people ages 18 and up will spend about a year working at a school or nonprofit to help connect other young people to mental health support.

  • Corps members will conduct check-ins with students, run trainings for caregivers, conduct community outreach and more.
  • They'll receive training, a stipend, and earn state-specific mental health worker credentials and credit toward higher education degrees in behavioral health.

Administrators expect hundreds of young people to join the program in its first year, and thousands to benefit from it.

  • In addition to Colorado, programs will start this fall in Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas.
  • Programs in California, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Utah and Virginia are slated to start next year.

The Schultz Family Foundation, created by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz and Sheri Kersch Schultz, and Pinterest expect to invest $10 million in the program over three years.

  • Other funding will come from public sources, including state and national AmeriCorps grants. Schultz said it expects additional philanthropic and private sector donations in the future.

Zoom in: Colorado is working with five AmeriCorps programs, most of which have longtime connections to local schools, said John Kelly, executive director of the state's service commission.

  • Participants will receive training in therapeutic communication, crisis intervention, behavioral health systems and other skills. They'll receive a minimum of $20 per hour.
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