Empowering youth and building a sense of community are common goals among coalitions within the prevention field. Be The Influence (BTI) coalition has taken a unique approach to achieve both: using the power of art for prevention. Over the years, BTI has hosted a range of art programs that incorporate theatre, music, painting and more, with the goal of building self-esteem, support and a healthy outlet for youth.
“I come from a theatre background originally, so when I started thinking about how to effectively get our message across in schools – it just clicked. Through art, you can bring a message to life, and youth are also able to retain it better and get more invested in it,” shared Laura Morris, Project Director of Be the Influence Coalition. “The arts also happen to be a great coping alternative and confidence booster. When youth are able to express themselves creatively, there can be many positive impacts.”
One of BTI’s mainstay educational methods is peer to peer theatre. They first began this strategy at school assemblies, focusing primarily on topics such as suicide prevention, bullying and substance-related issues. Through performing informative skits, youth are able to have fun and become playful with topics that might not otherwise pique their interest. Over the years, BTI has expanded on this by recording a series of creative PSAs, called “Would You Try Me?” In these short clips, youth perform monologues as characters based on various substances – driving home the negative impacts of substance use in an engaging way.
Other art projects have included creating a community youth art mural; conducting programs that involve painting, journaling and chalk art as creative outlets; and writing and recording prevention-inspired hip hop songs. Additionally, BTI’s Middle School Monologues program, a four-day experience hosted in partnership with their Parks and Recreation department, incorporated improv and group conversations around how to express yourself through your body, voice and writing. By the end of that program, students wrote and performed monologues around the theme of hope and presented it to their family and peers.
“Middle School Monologues is one of our best programs, because you can see such a difference in the youth from the start of the week to the end of it. The monologues they were able to create were just amazing, and throughout the week, you could see the group completely transform from being shy and insecure to becoming a bonded and empowered group.”
Not only does art have the ability to embolden youth to share their voices, but through group activities and collaboration, it also has the power to build a sense of community. “The eighth graders who participated in Middle School Monologues were able to enter high school with a strong peer support system because of this program. To this day, they are still a tight group, which is really valuable at that age,” said Laura.
By hosting art-related activities, BTI has provided tools for youth to cope in healthy ways and bond with their peers. In May, the coalition will host a community-wide event called Jammin’ for Mental Health, which will feature a community art project, a variety of resource booths and a panel discussion and screening of a film discussing depression and anxiety. Learn more about these and other initiatives by visiting BTI’s website.