BUFFALO, New York – The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust has awarded $400,000 to Mental Health Advocates (MHA) for the expansion of the non-profit’s Youth Peer Advocates (YPA) Program. The two- year grant will allow MHA to expand the youth program into five additional schools and four community organizations, hire two more YPAs, and assist with retention efforts.

Youth peer advocates are trained individuals between the ages of 18-30 who self-identify as a person with first-hand experience receiving services in any one of the child-serving systems: mental health, addiction recovery, juvenile justice, child welfare, and special education. YPAs use their own lived experiences to connect with at-risk youth through peer-led support groups, educational trainings, and 1:1 non-crisis support for youth and young adults ages 9-26.

In 2022, MHA’s YPA program provided services to 62 schools and served 6781 students. The YPAs also provide support in four Western New York in-patient mental health facilities that treat youth: Erie County Medical Center, Brylin Hospital, OLV Human Services, and Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center with support groups and 1:1 peer services.

“Because of their closeness in age, students are able to connect with a YPA in a way someone older may not,” explains Director of Youth Programs Karl Shallowhorn. “The goal is to improve mental health literacy and awareness while helping young people learn the skills needed to handle everyday stress and build positive mental health.”

YPAs are credentialed as New York State Youth Peer Advocates administered by Youth Power of Families Together in NYS.