This spotlight was developed by Louise Fagan, Contractual Project Coordinator at the Spartanburg Regional Foundation, in collaboration with the RHNTC. The Spartanburg Regional Foundation houses Connect, a TPP20 Tier 1 project and the infrastructure support of a collective impact model to convene, coordinate, build capacity and awareness, leverage resources, and evaluate adolescent health in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.
“The work has been richer and more impactful not only because we listened to the voice of teens, but because we let them tell their story. Teens will tell you what they want and need.”
Connect helps ensure that the Spartanburg, South Carolina community hears teen and partner voices and understands their work and impact. This has been achieved through videos, special projects like a photovoice project, conferences, and listening sessions with adolescents who talked about the specific challenges they face.
The photovoice project in particular had a deep impact and felt successful because it was actually led by teens. They were there because of their interest in photography. In the first meeting, we talked about how they were going to do work based on Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) data from their own community.
The teens approached the project with seriousness and a great sense of responsibility to properly reveal the stories the data told because they were reflecting the experiences and feelings of their peers.
At the launch event, watching them engage with the community, stand and hold their own, and tell their story with their photos was incredibly impactful. It was not just their work, it was their voice. It is rare for any of us to have that kind of exposure to teens talking about their creative work and explaining their relationship to the challenges and positive experiences of being a teen in Spartanburg County. Hearing directly from them helped the data resonate.
We had two sets of listening sessions with teens around their experience. That was when we realized the depths of the mental health challenges that young people were facing—which they very plainly told us. And that was heartbreaking. The teens were very vulnerable; but they were also determined to share their stories and discuss the challenges so their fellow adolescents, friends, and peers wouldn’t feel alone.
This work is foundational, it builds bridges, it respects the professionals working in these areas, as well as the teens they serve. For me personally, it has been some of the most challenging and rewarding work of my career.
Because of the time that Connect has committed to relationship building, the teens are actively engaged with the conversations around their own health and well-being.
—Louise Fagan, Spartanburg Regional Foundation
Copyright Louise Fagan, distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license