Local mental health non-profit SafeSpace expands services to middle schools

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on July 16, 2018

Menlo Park-based nonprofit, SafeSpace, which provides mental health services to local youth, is growing, a fact that’s  bittersweet to co-founder Susan Bird.

“Yes, we’re glad that we’ve been able to expand services,” she said in the living room of the cozy and comfortable SafeSpace Community Engagement Center on Oak Grove. “But it’s also sad that the need is so great.”

Added SafeSpace Managing Director Lesley Martin, a former school administrator who also once taught at Hillview: “It’s the power of the student voice in the community. Every single one of our student advisors has had experience with some mental health issue.”

Growth has occurred in the number of schools served; there are now 15. And the organization is expanding it services to reach middle schools, including Hillview in Menlo Park, Corte Madera in Portola Valley, and Menlo School and Sacred Heart Lower School in Atherton. Fifty students are now involved as advisors, taking the SafeSpace story to their schools on an individual basis, as no two school’s needs are the same.

Sarah Pistorino (pictured far left), who will be a rising junior at Sacred Heart Prep in the fall, has been a member of the Advisory Board since the beginning. “What makes a difference is the connections between two people who have a shared experience,” she said. “Before you couldn’t connect because people wouldn’t talk about mental health struggles. Every one is going through something; the stories are all different but shared.”

Two new members of the Youth Advisory Board are recent middle school graduates Elle Margyla and Gigi Pistilli (pictured with Sarah), both bound for Woodside High School this fall.

“I’ve had struggles,” said Elle. “I agree that having a conversation is the connection. But also knowing that I can actually do something.”

Added Gigi: “It’s totally rewarding to be involved. There’s no negative stigma. It’s nice to break the cycle.”

“This a youth-led, youth-created organization that advises schools and administrators — providing on the ground grass root change,” said Lesley. “And they advise us as well.”

“We get an incredible amount of support from the adults,” said Sarah.  “I’ve never been involved with an organization that has our backs so much. We’ve been given an amazing opportunity to make changes in our schools.”

Complete information about SafeSpace’s services is available online or at the SafeSpace Community Engagement Center at 708 Oak Grove. Clinical services are provided in Menlo Park through the organization’s affiliation with the Bay Area Clinical Associates (BACA). A list of upcoming events is available online. In an emergency, SafeSpace recommends contacting a crisis text line by texting BAY to 741741 for free, confidential, 24/7 support.

Photo by Irene Searles (c) 2018

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