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Natural Helpers

Natural Helpers is a peer based helping program designed for middle and high school students who want to strengthen their communication and helping skills by providing support and service to others. Natural Helpers is based on a simple premise: students naturally seek out other trustworthy students, and occasionally teachers, for advice, assistance, or just a sympathetic ear.

Students and school adults are chosen through an anonymous survey process where they also choose top concerns (grades, rumors, drug use, etc.). A cross section of students identified by the survey is then invited to attend the retreat. The retreat is designed to engage students in team building and problem solving skills, while breaking down barriers with the diverse group. Participants also learn active listening skills, knowing their limitations to helping others, and how to better care for themselves. Natural Helpers are not professionally trained counselors or therapists.

The program focuses on reinforcing positive norms and changing negative ones. By focusing on the attitudes and behaviors of individual Natural Helpers, the program seeks to influence those norms. The changes occur on several levels: one to one, when Natural Helpers are helping their friends; in the classroom, when Natural Helpers are learning skills and forming attitudes; and in the school & community.

Which norms? The most significant norms are ‘helping’ norms.

Positive helping norms can be:

  • It’s okay to ask an adult for help.
  • People should take good care of themselves
  • Listening is a good way to get information.

Negative helping norms can be:

  • I can help my friends with their depression.
  • Adults can’t be trusted.
  • I know what my friends need better than they do.

Throughout the school year, Natural Helpers attend ongoing training which refreshes their skills and/or explores other pertinent topics. Several schools choose to use Natural Helpers as a service-oriented club which assists the specific needs of the school or community.

The evaluation of Natural Helpers also occurs on several levels. The program contains processes for setting up goals, objectives, and activities so that a process evaluation is all but done at the conclusion of the year.

MASKS

Don’t be fooled by the face I wear, for I wear a thousand masks,
And none of them are me.
Don’t be fooled, please don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure, that confidence if my name and coolness is my game,
And that I need no one. But don’t believe me.
Beneath dwells the real me, a person scared to be vulnerable.
That’s why I create a mask to hide behind, to shield me from the glance that knows,
But such a glance is precisely my salvation.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from my own self-built prison walls.
I’m afraid that deep down I’m not good enough,
And that you will reject me.
And so begins the parade of masks. I idly chatter to you.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing
And nothing of what’s everything, of what’s crying within me.
Please listen carefully and try to hear more than my words.
I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous, and me.
But you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to hold out your hand.
Each time you’re kind and gentle, and encouraging,
Each time you try to understand because you really care,
My heart begins to grow wings.
With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding,
You can release me from my shallow world of uncertainty.
It will not be easy for you. The nearer you approach me,
The blinder I may strike back.
But I’m told that Love is stronger than strong walls,
And in this lies my only hope.
Please try to beat down these walls with firm but gentle hands
Who am I, you may wonder.
I am every man you meet, and also every woman that you meet,
And I am you, as well.

Author unknown

adapted from ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’

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