Rise Together empowers youth to lead the change in their schools and communities.
Original Source: forbes.com
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, and the third-leading cause of death among individuals ages 10 to 24 years old. But because of the many misconceptions about youth and the challenges they face, there isn’t always an outlet for kids to share their stories or learn how to get help.
That’s just the problem Rise Together, a social impact organization based out of Appleton, Wisconsin, hoped to solve.
The Road to Rise Together
Rise Together was founded in 2013 when three friends, Anthony Alvarado, Douglas Darby and Nadine Machkovech, realized that mental health, suicide and addiction were ravaging their community and group of friends.
Alvarado shares he was at a critical point in his recovery from addiction, Darby had just gotten out of prison, and Machkovech had recently decided to get sober before turning 21 years old. According to Alvarado, “We were sick and tired of losing our friends and family members because of these issues.”
That September, the three friends started sharing their stories “to anyone who would listen,” whether that be at a rally, prison or parking lot. It was this journey of sharing their stories that ignited the passion of spreading hope to youth.
Alvarado says the team knew Rise Together’s greatest opportunity would be to impact youth when they started engaging with kids and connecting with their stories. “We saw our younger selves in them,” he explains. “If there was a moment we all could have changed in our lives, it would have been to ask for help at a younger age.”
From that point on, the mission was clear. Rise Together set out to create a movement of young people, encouraging them to stand up and speak out about the issues they care about, ranging from suicide, self-harm, drugs and alcohol, and more.
Bringing Hope to Youth
The organization primarily travels to schools, conducting presentations and workshops and empowering long-term student-led programs. And though the organization is still young, their reach has been impressive.
Over the past four years, Rise Together has educated and impacted more than 130,000 students, traveling more than 200,000 miles to present in more than 150 schools in 53 counties in the Midwest – all to spread the message of hope.
Now, Rise Together is working to engage the entire family unit by conducting family and employer workshops to help inspire important conversations at home. “We want to create a system outside of the system,” explains Alvarado.
“Public schools are doing the best they can, but they can’t handle all of these conversations alone.”
The Power of Data
In the future, the organization is working to build out a national research project to truly understand the issues the youth of today are facing. Since 2014, Rise Together has already surveyed more than 7,000 students in over 53 counties, collecting data to understand how kids are experiencing trauma, stress, self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
“We survey kids before and after our presentations, and 80% of them report being less likely to use drugs and alcohol after a presentation,” says Alvarado. “But we want to learn what happens next, and want to check in with those same students to see how long that indication lasts.”
According to Alvarado, this will help Rise Together – and parents, schools and communities – better understand how to intervene in the lives of youth. So far, data shows that students want more school prevention programs and greater access to resources on mental health.
“We want to create one of the greatest cultural movements led by youth,” Alvarado shares.
“We don’t always know how to ask kids the right questions, and many communities don’t know where to start. The key is having youth involved and at the table, empowering them with a voice to be heard.”
The social enterprise has started making good on the promise of empowering students directly through programs like school challenges and student-led suicide prevention workshops, where students have access to educational content and resource toolkits so they can learn – and teach others – how to support their friends.
“If we’re not teaching these kids how to ask for help or help others, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to make an impact,” Alvarado says.
And throughout it all, for the Rise Together team, the passion is personal.
“We all remember having similar thoughts growing up. We wanted to change the world. We were bold, brave and courageous,” Alvarado shares. “But life beat us down and we all went through really hard times. Over time, we gave up on our dreams and goals. So now, we’re trying to help kids before that happens.”
Inspiring Change at the Community Level
Reflecting on Rise Together being founded in a small community in Wisconsin, Alvarado stresses that any community is capable of creating a movement to impact the lives of families and youth. He shares these practical tips for any aspiring social entrepreneur or change-maker – whether you’re a kid or an adult:
- Stand up for something you believe in and start speaking out.
- Ask questions from people who have been down the path of what you’re trying to do and have the qualities you’re looking for.
- Surround yourself with others and don’t go at it alone.
- Build a team, get focused and strategically plan out your approach for impacting your community.
According to Alvarado, this is just the beginning for Rise Together. After forming a national advisory board in 2017 and focusing on four core objectives for the next few years, Rise Together is looking into long-term engagement programs, ambassador programs and online learning curriculums for youth. Having served an average of 25,000-40,000 youth per year, they hope in the future that figure is raised to more than 100,000 youth impacted each year through a blend of in-person and online programs.
But their ultimate endeavor? Scaling on a national level to carry the message of hope to youth all across the country. And while their hearts and dreams are big, their message is simple:
“At the end of the day, we are spreading the message of hope so kids can have a sense of meaning and belonging,” says Alvarado. “ We’re sharing our scars so others can heal theirs . We believe that programs don’t change communities. Relationships do. ”