United Way of Will County Leading Resilient Youth Initiative for K-12 Students

The United Way of Will County is leading an effort to bring the Resilient Youth program to participating schools across the region with the support of two grants the organization recently received.

Youth And Teens with all hands in together showing unity and teamwork

Resilient Youth is an evidence-based curriculum developed 25 years ago by researchers from Harvard Medical School and clinicians from the Child Resiliency Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Benson-Henry Institute. The Resilient Youth curriculum includes cognitive strategies and mind body techniques that students can use to regulate their emotions, such as breathing, mindfulness, and self-reflection. The program is designed to be able to complement and support other ongoing programs within schools to promote student wellness. Historically, students in the Resilient Youth program have achieved better control over their impulses, management of their negative emotions, and development of their empathy and compassion for others.

This initiative is made possible by two grants which will allow the United Way of Will County to cover the cost of materials and teacher training for participating schools. The United Way of Will County received $884,000 in funding for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration initiative from the Congressional Directive Spending Project Services Administration. Congressman Bill Foster presented the funding during a celebratory event earlier in the year. Additional funding has been provided by Will County through an allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds to support the work of the United Way.

United Way of Will County President and CEO Sarah Oprzedek highlighted that the initiative underscores the commitment of the organization to support the community’s students:

“The wellness of Will County students is among the top priorities of our organization. We are excited to lead an initiative which will help so many young students across our county.”

Teachers who will be leading students through the program will participate in a two-day teach-the-teacher training. This training is highly interactive and focused on teachers coming together to learn the components of the program and then determine the best place to incorporate it within their curriculum to meet the needs of their students.

Training for participating teachers will be facilitated by Tom Klisiewicz who is the founder and President of Smart Health, Wellness and Performance (Smart HWP). Mr. Klisiewicz expressed excitement about the opportunity to promote the wellness of students across a large and diverse county like Will and believes this program can help students by providing them with research-based strategies to support their wellness:

“Today’s youth face more stress and emotional challenges than ever before and deserve to have the skills and knowledge they need to thrive. By learning resiliency skills, students learn to increase self-awareness, manage their stress, and consequently, raise their overall performance in school and life.”

This is not the first time that the Resilient Youth program has been implemented in a Will County school district. Resilient Youth was adopted by Lockport Township High School District 205 in 2020 and added to the district’s physical education and health classes during the pandemic. The program remains a part of the district’s curriculum.

This initiative is being managed by Dr. Pete Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of St. Francis and former Assistant Regional Superintendent for the Will County Regional Office of Education. Dr. Sullivan shared his perspective on the importance of this work:

“It is vitally important for today’s schools to attend to students as individuals by supporting both their academic and personal development. Recent research has demonstrated conclusively that programs like Resilient Youth help students to develop healthy lifelong habits while supporting greater levels of academic achievement.”

Also supporting the initiative is Dr. Hannah Klein and her colleagues from Lewis University who will be focused on the evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. Dr. Klein serves as the Assistant Director of the Lewis University Center for Community Research and Education and is an Assistant Professor of Justice, Law and Public Safety Studies. The Center supports partnerships between Lewis University and local organizations to develop research and educational programming which meets the social and educational needs of the community. Dr. Klein shared:

“Research shows there is a huge need for social emotional support for students. We are very excited to assist in the evaluation of this important work to help close those gaps for students in our community.”