Eliana Joy gives the inside scoop on the South Board’s needs assessment

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YouthRoots has been a wonderful experience for me. It is so good to feel like I’m doing something and having an impact in my community. I am so grateful for the opportunity! In choosing needs to fund, our board shared and discussed our own personal experience and spoke to a panel of experts who worked at different nonprofits in Denver. We then created a survey that asked what the most pressing issues were for youth in the South Denver community. We sent it out and got over 150 responses, mainly from youth ages 15-19. 

Over 80% of respondents placed mental health and suicide as the first or second most relevant need for youth in our community. Our board agreed with that assessment, as many of us have had personal experiences with mental health challenges, or have been impacted by a friend or family member’s struggles. Mental health is very important to me personally, and I am also on the board for mental health programming in my school district. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue greatly, as there are many added stressors and fewer supports, leading to an increase in reported anxiety and depression, especially among youth. 

Sexual violence emerged second on the survey, and we learned that domestic abuse has gotten much worse because of the pandemic, as victims are stuck at home with their abusers. It was very interesting to talk to a therapist from the Blue Bench and learn about how important youth education is in the prevention of sexual violence. 

Lastly, we chose homelessness as it was third on our survey, and our board is very passionate about it as well. We spoke with a representative from Urban Peak, a shelter that serves homeless youth and young adults, and learned that because of the pandemic, more people are experiencing housing instability and shelters have less funding and ability to serve them.

One thing that was very interesting for me to learn is that all of these issues are interconnected. Homeless youth and sexual violence survivors struggle greatly with mental health challenges, and survivors of sexual violence and abuse are much more likely to experience housing instability. We also learned that these issues are tied into many others in our society, such as income inequality, racism, sexism, and homophobia. As such, these issues affect certain populations disproportionately. I am very passionate about LGBTQ+ issues, and was shocked to learn that LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth, according to the Trevor Project. Being queer is a major risk factor for the other issues as well, as the NCSL reports that LGBTQ+ youth have more than twice the risk of being homeless than their cisgender or heterosexual peers. The Urban Peak representative shared that many of their LGBTQ+ clients were kicked out after coming out to their parents. In addition, the Human Resource Campaign reports that around half of transgender people and bisexual women will experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, which is sickening to me. I am so grateful that YouthRoots is giving me this opportunity to raise funds and awareness to combat these issues.

I am very passionate about making a difference, and in addition to YouthRoots, I do a lot of other volunteering. I am running a book drive and have donated over 1,500 books so far to organizations including Urban Peak, Family Tree, Options High School, and the Denver Public Library Bookmobile. I also am the president and founder of my school’s Girl Up Club, which works in conjunction with the United Nations to help girls around the world achieve their full potential through education. I also volunteer at Dress For Success and Housed Working and Healthy, two local nonprofits doing amazing work.

Alyssa HornyakEliana Joy gives the inside scoop on the South Board’s needs assessment