The Connected Wellbeing Impact Studio supports early- to mid-stage innovations that foster youth and community wellbeing through strengths-based, socially-connected, and youth-centered approaches. The projects in the Studio draw from established and research-informed approaches in the connected learning community. As participants in the Impact Studio, teams benefit from personalized advising, capacity building opportunities, and cross-sector connections to accelerate impact and build shared purpose.
Connecting to people who get you
With the right design and moderation, online settings can offer safe, supportive, and affirming connection with peers with shared interests and experiences. Supportive online communities and affinity networks can offer spaces of refuge.
The Seattle Public Library is spearheading the “Creating Space for Teen Mental Health” project, a collaborative endeavor designed to develop a framework supporting teen programs in libraries that prioritize mental health. The project aims to foster a library and community culture that bolsters positive mental health for teenagers. This includes exploring essential aspects of mental health such as mindfulness, emotion regulation, and stress tolerance. It also investigates the intersection between mental health and space design, considering elements such as color schemes, furniture arrangements, and tactile elements. The developed framework will not only serve as an educational resource for library staff, but also enable them to carry out their own space design sessions with teens. To facilitate this process, the framework will be distributed as a card deck, allowing for the versatile combination of various elements while planning mental health programs for teens. This groundbreaking initiative, “Creating Space for Mental Health for Teens”, is a cooperative venture involving the University of Washington, the Meridian Library District in Idaho, Charles County Public Library in Maryland, and the American Library Association.
ExperienceCraft is a youth-led, online community for grieving youth ages 7-15, which provides a context for youth to engage ethically, responsibly, and meaningfully with other youth who have experienced the death of a caregiver, sibling, or close member of their community. ExperienceCraft offers youth an online setting where grief is acknowledged and normalized, where there are opportunities to meaningfully contribute, feel a sense of belonging, and where youth can both give and get peer support. Developed in Minecraft and Discord, two popular online platforms, ExperienceCraft is available year-round at no cost. College-age near peer-mentors from Connected Camps moderate the server, along with youth ambassadors from the community itself, keeping it safe while also providing scaffolded support for how to engage with the technology meaningfully, responsibly, and in ways that are fair, inclusive, and empowering. The initiative is supported through a partnership between two intergenerational nonprofit organizations—Connected Camps and Experience Camps.
Give Us The Floor provides LGBTQ teens in distress with the peer-positive human connection that they are too often missing. We help LGBTQ teens deal with distress through safe, inclusive, innovative and unique online peer-led Supportive Group Chats, breaking the isolation and shame cycles they are experiencing. Trained teens facilitate the confidential groups and participants help each other with prevalent mental health and social issues such as depression, isolation, anxiety, identity, discrimination, bullying, relationships, domestic violence, and body image.
After only one month in the program: 91% of the participants reported that the group chat had helped with their struggles, 79% say they are not sure or sure they couldn’t have gotten the help from somewhere else, 84% reported that the group chat had helped them feel less lonely, 79% reported that the group chat had improved the way they feel about themselves.
Peer Health Exchange has created the peer informed resource hub selfsea as a resource to support wellbeing. Peer Health Exchange has twenty years of experience leading near-peer health education programming in middle and high schools across the country, reaching over 150,000 students during that time. Early in the pandemic, young people asked us to scale dramatically to meet their needs, particularly around mental health. In response, we have worked in partnership with them to build a digital product—selfsea—to support their wellbeing. Our app was designed together with young people as a safe digital place where they can see themselves reflected within a supportive and inclusive community that prioritizes their identity and experiences about mental health, sexual health, and beyond. While selfsea was built specifically with and for young people ages 13-19, people of all ages can check out original videos created by young people and accessible, identity-affirming health resources anytime.
Harnessing tech for equity and belonging
Empowering youth to create and re-imagine with digital tools is critical to changing the equation of who technology serves. These youth development orgs reflect the strengths, identities, and culture of youth underestimated by the dominant culture of technology.
GLITCH is a Black feminist and critical race tech program for Black girls. In addition to preparing Black girls to critically navigate and collectively heal from anti-Black technologies and digital platforms, this program also equips them with the critical computational skills needed to redesign technologies in ways that protect – rather than harm – Girls of Color on and offline. GLITCH is a part of VIPS, a culturally responsive college access program at UCLA.
At ListoAmerica, we provide equitable learning opportunities for young people from underserved communities. Our mission is to create learning ecosystems centered on their cultures, communities, and interests by using emerging technologies. “ListoAmerica Remotely” is our Impact Studio project that offers three remote programs to young members who are not within our physical reach. These programs are STEM Sin Fronteras (STEM Without Borders), ClubhouseToGo, and TechAmoverse. Our goal is to create digital experiences that replicate the camaraderie of ListoAmerica’s in-person programs by using immersive technologies. STEM Sin Fronteras is an international initiative that allows young people in Mexico and the U.S. to collaborate on STEM projects. ClubhouseToGo aims to replicate our Clubhouse program by providing activities and mentoring outside our physical Clubhouse space. TechAmoverse is ListoAmerica’s version of the metaverse, a digital space where virtual reality technologies are used to meet, learn, and collaborate.
Maven Youth fosters a rare safe space for LGBT+ youth ages 14-24 to explore careers and entrepreneurship while navigating the impact technology has had on social and emotional wellness. Equity-centered programs led and designed in partnership with LGBT+ youth and adults working in the tech industry are provided and include summer camps, a youth leadership council, apprenticeships, leadership retreats, hackathons and consciousness raising talks. Maven Youth programs build confidence and consciousness while developing 21st century career readiness skills through collaborative, project-based learning and leading experiences. Maven Youth takes pride in 99% youth engagement in summer camps and on a youth-led model where LGBT+ youth co-design and facilitate programs as well as serve in influential speaking, presenting and mentorship roles.
Games for Change is creating the Playforce toolkit, a collection of resources for youth and
educators to run after-school esports and gaming clubs with an emphasis on fostering digital citizenship, inclusivity, and prosocial behavior. All resources will be co-designed with students and educators through our Raising Good Gamers Initiative. Once designed, the toolkit will be disseminated widely for use in formal and informal learning settings.
Diversifying and amplifying youth voice
Young people know they are not alone when they see their strengths and lived experiences represented online by relatable peers. Youth media organizations support wellbeing by empowering diverse youth creators.
For the past four years, Novelly has learned how to publish high-quality literature by diverse and talented teenage writers from across the United States. Through our research, we’ve learned that when students are taught this literature in the English classroom, they are more engaged and excited about what they are learning. They’re more excited to read and write, because they learn to see their own stories as valuable and worthy. With the Impact Studio, we aim to develop a streamlined and rigorous process for capturing case studies of the impact of student-written literature, specifically the Novelly library, in 8th-12th grade English classrooms.
“Humanizing Tech Content, Curricula & Conversations with Youth Media” (working title), a Teach YR project at YR Media, will focus on scaling our media & tech curriculum library to explore issues of ethics, justice and equity in tech and promote critical tech literacy. Our aim is to leverage the rich assets of students’ repertoires of practice in service of transforming and humanizing their digital learning experience. Teach YR delivers curriculum, using youth media as anchor texts, to classrooms nationwide that is reflective of the diversity and vibrancy of our young people, and their groundbreaking stories. We draw from their digitally-mediated sensemaking, including their storytelling and creative expression to affirm how they are engaging with their communities. Guided by our collegial pedagogy model (Chavez & Soep, 2005), youth and adults will partner to co-create multi-format, multimodal learning materials that will inform how young people can leverage technology as tools to highlight issues imperative to them and support their wellbeing.
This Teenage Life is an online youth community and media organization whose flagship publication is a podcast about teen mental health. With a staff of two adults, the podcast showcases the voices of teenagers from around the world, who gather each week and participate in dialogue groups. Together, they discuss topics that are important to them, but for which they have few outlets. Each of the four core dialogue groups, comprising around twelve teens and one facilitator, meet weekly to generate topics, record their conversations, make music and art, which ultimately contributes to a podcast with over 1.2 million downloads. This Teenage Life has published over 100 episodes on topics such as coming out, body image, parental divorce, and bullying. According to our research, we are the world’s only podcast where youth listeners can become long-term contributors: all of our current contributors were listeners first.