There has been a 40 percent increase of at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition according to the CDC during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Air Force Test Center’s Christeen Greenwell, Tech. Sgt. Janna Ybarra and Ariel Eishen came together to create the Support Outreach Action Resilience (SOAR) Program, for teens at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to encourage social interaction and create a peer-to-peer support system with the goal of suicide prevention.
“I met up with Christeen and Ariel one day, and knowing 2020 was rough and having lost two teens here [at Edwards AFB],” said Ybarra, 412th Force Support Squadron readiness NCO. “I mentioned that I wished there was something we could do, whether it be a support group or something, where teenagers can come together in a COVID-safe environment and get the support they need.”
According to Ybarra, the feedback that she received about the program was positive. Most of the discussion was centered on parents believing that not going to school or having interaction with their peers was a huge factor in suicides during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the three women got the ball rolling to get the program started and approved, SOAR kicked off.
“SOAR is currently for ages 13-18 and we meet once a month,” said Christeen Greenwell, a Management Assistant for Air Force Test Center’s plans and programs directorate. “The teens pick what activities they’re passionate about and do them as often as they want together.”
Currently, SOAR is available to all Edwards AFB (Active Duty/Guard/Reserve, civilian, or contractor) teens on and off base.
A few of the teenagers have been part of the program for a while and enjoy all the program has to offer.
“Because of COVID, I wasn’t finding many friends,” said Justin Helton, SOAR teen. “Since joining [SOAR] I’ve met more people and I’m more creative than I’ve ever been. I enjoy being there for people, meeting new friends and helping create events based off people’s hobbies.”
The program is led by multiple agencies on Edwards AFB and the surrounding communities who assist with ensuring the teens have an abundance of support they need.
“The adults that guide SOAR play an important role in ensuring the program is ran efficiently and effectively. For example we have a social worker, community relations, teachers, education and welfare, and multiple other subject matter experts,” said Ybarra.
The main intent of the teen-driven program is to give the teenagers the opportunity to lead while also keeping their attention focused on positive things.
“This gives them a positive channel for them to focus their energy on, it’s a safe space, and a way for them to positively impact their peers on things they go through in life,” said Greenwell.
“Our hopes for SOAR is it will not only be successful here at Edwards AFB and the Air Force Test Center, but other bases see this program and use it, especially for remote bases like this one, that may not have a lot of access to help,” said Ybarra.
For adults who are interested in helping, or for teens who would like to get involved, visit the SOAR Facebook page: @SOAR Edwards or email email@example.com for more information.