The twenty young people that make up Mikva Challenge's Teen Health Council come from all parts of the city. Their lives and experiences are vastly different from each other and each of them brings with them a slice of the boundless diversity that is so visible here in Chicago. At the same time however, they are unified by some of the most inspiring and powerful characteristics of any young people. They are purposeful, driven, talented, passionate about the state of teen health, and ready to go beyond basic discussion to take meaningful action in their communities. Over the course of the six week summer program, these young people went from strangers in the same program to friends on the same team, determined to change Chicago health policy for the better.
Week 1: Teamwork
"In order to work together, you have to know each other" -Kira Banks
Two psychologists from Lurie Children's Hospital's Center for Childhood Resilience visited the council every week throughout the summer to discuss mental health and provide resources for the THC. Dr. Claudio Rivera and Dr. Tera Gill shared breathing and control techniques that helped the council stay calm and collected both inside and outside of the Council. They also brought in guests from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and helped to connect the council to a lot of opportunities for future work in education, research, and leadership.
Dr. Ken Fox, the Chief Health Officer for Chicago Public Schools came to the Teen Health Council with a problem. The recent failures of CPS to protect students from sexual abuse have spurred a need for a revamped CPS Student Bill of Rights. Dr. Fox charged the THC with creating the new Bill of Rights to ensure all CPS students are informed and protected. This was a very important issue and the Council took Dr. Fox's trust in us very seriously, ensuring that the new Bill of Rights would fix the problems with the old version and that it would be easily accessible and useful for students.
"We've done some great things with Mikva these past few years. It's been wonderful, we love doing it." - Dr. Morita
Dr. Julie Morita, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, and Sarah Parchem, the Program Director at Chicago Department of Public Health are two of the most important health officials in the city of Chicago. During their visit to the Teen Health Council they showed their interest in continuing the work of previous Councils, especially for mental, dental, and sexual health.
Tonantzin Carmona, the Chief of Policy at the City Clerk's Office asked the council to create a promotional campaign for the Chicago City Key, an ID that can be swiped for Ventra, at the library, and for discounts on pharmaceuticals. The City Key is an important resource for undocumented, homeless, or trans people who don't have access to other forms of identification. Supporting the CityKey meant not just making sure they are easy to access for young people, but also ensuring that young people know about the key and take advantage of the opportunity.
Week 3: Research
“I think that you have to really be informed about what you’re doing before you can change it. [Research] gives us more of an edge when we’re telling people our recommendations because they know that we’re qualified to do it." - Kira Banks
Based on our research, the Council created preliminary versions of our policy recommendations. We took these ideas to the Student Advisory Council (SAC) to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each recommendation. These meetings helped improve on our first drafts and fill in the holes that we were missing. The collaboration was especially helpful for editing the CPS Student Bill of Rights because the members of SAC are experts on CPS and students' rights.
This week, the Council had the opportunity to visit Lurie Children's Hospital with Dr. Rivera and Dr. Gill to speak with an array of different employees, from translators to trauma surgeons, social media experts, program coordinators, and more. By speaking with experts at Lurie Children's Hospital, the Council gained new perspectives on health and learned how extensive health career options are.
Week 5: Preparation
The first couple weeks when they were talking about 'oh you're going to meet these people, you're going to propose these plans and stuff,' I was like 'whoa' like that's intimidating. . . but I know what I want to do with my project. I know what I want to say, what I want to get done. It feels nice, I'm ready." - Mellony Vasquez
Week 6: Presentation
"The stuff I did with The Teen Health Council was beautiful. Even though this is the last week, I'm going to be doing more stuff over the school year. I actually . . . I can't wait." - Willie Higgs
This is the week we were waiting for. As the Council headed into our final week, almost everyone is a little nervous, but we worked together to make sure everyone is ready to speak. All three of the decision makers that had come to visit all returned on the same day.