Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A PITCH TO HELP YOUTH; United Way, UNF Offer Students Chance to Fund Plans for Outreach

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A PITCH TO HELP YOUTH; United Way, UNF Offer Students Chance to Fund Plans for Outreach

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

Embedded Within, a proposed mentoring project to help at-risk high school students transition to college, was the brainchild of University of North Florida junior Courtney Lynch.

Two UNF seniors, Dayna Cohen and Jessica Stephens, came up with Mindful Friends, which would be an after-school program to educate sixth-grade students about mental illness.

Until Thursday, Embedded Within and Mindful Friends were just ideas.

But as the tied first-place winners of Upstream, a new social innovation challenge sponsored by the United Way of Northeast Florida and UNF, the two teams will receive $5,000 to implement their ideas with a partner nonprofit.

"I am beyond happy," Cohen said.

They were among nine finalists in the competition, which paired UNF students with coaches from United Way's Stein Fellowship. During the past three months, coaches and student teams worked together to develop projects to solve community problems related to health, education and financial stability, according to the United Way.

Thursday, the finalists presented their projects to a panel of judges at the Jessie Ball duPont Center, a nonprofit hub downtown, as friends, families and other supporters watched.

David Miller, Upstream lead investor and Brightway Insurance chairman, was impressed.

"A leader is someone who stands up for what they believe in," he said. "Folks, today we have got a whole room full of leaders."

And at least one of them might have a future in politics, said another judge, Audrey Moran, Baptist Health's senior vice president for Social Responsibility and Community Advocacy, chairwoman of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and a former mayoral candidate.

"If this Embedded Within thing doesn't work out, you should run for mayor," Moran told Lynch after her presentation.

Lynch, a social work major at UNF, said she had discovered through her studies that one in five college students drop out in their freshman years. Also, when she talked to local high school seniors in December, she found that none of them had taken the SAT or ACT college admission tests. They told her they did not know where the testing was held and blamed their guidance counselors.

"I was really upset," Lynch said. "I want mentors to empower the students to take action on their own."

UNF mentors, she said, would be "support systems" for the students.

The project envisioned by nursing students Cohen and Stephens would establish an after-school Mindful Friends club for sixth-graders, where high school and college mentors would discuss mental health, what it means and how to get help. A mental-health counselor would also be on site.

"There's a huge gap in knowledge ... that leads to stigmas and stereotypes," Stephens said. …

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