Morning Zen

Celebrating the strength and diversity of young adults with mental health challenges

January 04, 2014

In our continuing focus on the joy, brilliance, strength and fortitude of young adults who have had experience with receiving mental health services, I want to share with you one shining example of a youth-driven, stigma-smashing, positive approach to creating a safe space for young adults to express who they are.

ymo keep movingYouth M.O.V.E. (Motivating Others through Voices of Experience) Oregon (YMO) is a youth led, state-wide, ever-expanding 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the services and systems that foster and promote the positive growth of Oregon’s transitional age youth and young adults (ages 14-25) by using peer support and uniting the voices of individuals who have lived through and experienced a vast array of obstacles with various state-run systems including (but not limited to) mental health, addiction/recovery, juvenile justice, incarceration, foster care, education, and child welfare. YMO provides community members with drop-in centers, youth support groups, and various trainings dedicated to helping at-risk youth and young adults.

Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon embodies all that is good about young adults who have experience with the mental health delivery system who choose to rise above the fray of stereotype and stigma and make their own mark on what works best for them – driven by their perspective and experience, not that of someone else. Fans of the Network know well that we love this kind of spirit and are most excited to share it.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Martin Rafferty, Executive Director of Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon to discuss their program, philosophy and approach to working with young adults. One of the things he said during our conversation that struck a chord with me was that in any of the five YMO locations throughout the state of Oregon anyone is welcome to participate. Even though the focus is on youth with emotional challenges, diagnostic criteria or stigmatizing labeling is never used and, quite frankly, is a non-issue. The focus is on building strengths and leadership so that youth can give back to their community. Sort of puts a different lens on things, doesn’t it?

This multi-faceted youth-led organization does it all – from motivational speaking to workshops and training, consulting and technical assistance, all from a youth perspective. One of Rafferty’s greatest wishes is for our nation to come to a point where “every story about the failures of the mental health system (which are often justly deserved) is accompanied by a story about examples of success. For it is success that we need to build on, not failure.” Well-spoken Mr. Rafferty!

Here are just a few of the many accolades and accomplishments this young organization has earned in the past few years:

  • YMO is the largest advocacy organization for young adults in Oregon. Direct services operated in 8 different counties where hundreds of young adults are served every month.
  • YMO staff and members sit on over 32 councils, boards and decision-making bodies in Oregon. The primary curriculum ran at every YMO location, is focused on helping young adults become leaders in their own life – and then in the system.
  • YMO trains traditional services on how to engage young adults more effectively. Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon has worked closely with universities to teach students who will work in the mental health field how to better understand the young adult population.

The Clackamas Drop
The Clackamas Drop, a YMO operated drop in center is the flagship of the program. The center has been so successful it is being replicated 300 miles away in Medford Oregon. The program in Medford is slated to open in early 2014. Peer services offered by YMO and other youth peer organizations have saved the county more than $100k a year, by estimates of Clackamas County Behavior Health. Most youth who initially enter the doors of the drop in center, have no idea that the location they are visiting offers mental health services. The focus of the center is on bridging services to young adults by being “Stigma Aware.” The staff that work for the drop in center are trained peer support specialists, yet without the large badge bearing the YMO logo you wouldn’t know they were staff. Rafferty describes the approach of staff at the Drop as “leading from behind.”

The process for working with youth who visit the YMO Drop is straightforward and strengths-based:

  • Intake and Initial Asset Assessment – Using a program/curriculum developed by YMO, young adults have a non-coercive and friendly intake process focused on an assessment of their assets using the 40 Developmental Assets instrument from the SEARCH Institute. This intake doesn’t feel like a process to young adults, it feels like a conversation.
  • Peer Support – The Drop offers opportunities for young adults to drop-in during its hours of operation. It is staffed by Peer Support Specialists who have lived experience in different systems.
  • Leadership Support Groups – The Drop offers weekly mental health support groups to enhance leadership skills and help young adults feel connected and anchored in the system. These groups operate twice a week and include outdoor adventure trips.
  • Restoring Lost Assets – The focus of support activities as well as leadership and recovery groups is on helping young adults identify and develop assets that they may have not acquired or may have lost as a result of their life experiences thus far. The connection with Peer Support Specialists and other young adult participants, as well as graduated Hub participants, who are becoming young adult mentors and leaders, assists in the asset acquisition. Understanding what young adults have lost by being system involved is the most important method in understanding how to restore normal abilities.
  • System Navigation – Individuals working in the system partner to provide psycho-educational and system navigation information to young adult participants. This has included representatives of the community college, schools, medical community, Job Council, housing organizations, and other community supports. Building a road of trust to system weary youth is a primary goal at the Drop.
  • Education and employment skills- A focus on learning across the life span in addition to traditional educational and employment skill development is fostered. Part of the main requirement of being a member of the Drop is a positive based focus on education.
  • Outcome Measurement – Using the YMO program based on the 40 developmental assets, young adult asset development is tracked over time. This enables the Hub to provide critical feedback to system partners on the effectiveness of their efforts and outcomes. While this tool is still in development, it’s already being used in other programs across the state.

 Silent Watch
Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon has a focus on reaching young adults who can’t visit services directly. Compelling outreach includes creating videos, Hip Hop Style Art, and other multimedia projects. One of these campaigns is known as the Silent Watch, which is Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon’s take on “inspirational” quotes, featuring a youth often wearing a black hoodie. The symbolism of the hood speaks to many young adults. This campaign has helped reached young adults from across the nation. Here are a couple of examples of Silent Watch posters. You can see them all on the Youth M.O.V.E. website.   

YMO slogan

ymo snap

What’s ahead for 2014
The over 5,00 twitter and 3,000 facebook followers of YMO have much to look forward to in 2014. In addition to continuing to strengthen their outreach centers, YMO will be conducting a series of celebrity and policymaker interviews, beginning with Scott Adams, the artist behind Dilbert and a critically acclaimed author. In the interview Scott Adams will give tips to young adults on how to beat apathy in a seemingly bureaucratic world. We at the Network can’t wait to read this interview!

Social media links
You can find Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon on the web at their website –, facebook – and twitter –

Finally, enjoy this 15 minute documentary video that introduces you to what Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon stands for. It will give you just a hint why we are so excited about this up and coming generation of mental health advocates who refuse to be defined by a label.

We have so much work to do to turn the tide of misguided opinion about who youth with mental health challenges are. Youth M.O.V.E. Oregon is doing their part. What are you doing? Send us your examples of youth-driven efforts for young people with emotional challenges and we will profile them so the collective voice of the Network can learn, share, educate and advocate for our next generation of leaders.

Scott Bryant-Comstock
President & CEO
Children’s Mental Health Network

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