We are pleased to announce that Willo Wright, Program Director of Seeds of Independence will be the first speaker in this colloquium series. Willo’s presentation takes place on Friday, January 24 from 3- 4:30 PM in room 102 Wishcamper on USM’s Portland Campus. Seeds of Independence (http://www.seedsofindependence.org) is a nonprofit, mentor and volunteer based organization founded to help at risk youth in Maine reach their full potential as independent, productive members of society.
Willo was the 2011 recipient of the Maine Judicial Branch "Advocate for Justice" award. She began her work with youth many years ago as a volunteer at Portland’s Center for Grieving Children and her advocacy efforts expanded as she realized her passion for helping youth at-risk for substance use and juvenile incarceration. Willo asserts the power of mentorship for helping young people to face and overcome adversity. She has served as a guardian ad litem, first for the Portland District Court and later for the state of Maine. Willo has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and women’s studies from Goddard College. Willo became involved with "Jumpstart," a program for first-time juvenile offenders. She and her husband, Tom Wright subsequently developed several programs devoted to helping at risk youth in Maine maximize their potential as socially responsible, productive adult citizens. Today these programs, summarized below, operate under the "Seeds of Independence," headquartered at Brunswick Landing (the former Brunswick Naval Air Station):
• Jumpstart: An eight-week alternative criminal justice sentencing program for first-time juvenile offenders.
•Rebound: A 12-week program for repeat juvenile offenders that focuses on building self-esteem, moral character and self-reliance.
• Beyond Long Creek Center: A mentor support program for incarcerated youth offering ongoing guidance after their release.
• Teen Parenting Group: A program for teen parents focusing on parenting skills and goal setting for independent living.
• Service Learning: Projects designed to build youth skills, relationships and community commitment through exposure to new people and environments.
• School Peer Mentors: A high school program offering peer support to students in need of positive role models.
According to Willo, “These programs are all mentor-driven…They’re all about relationships. We help young people learn to problem solve. Most of these initiatives are intended to help promote resilience and instill healthy psychosocial adjustment in youth. They’re also inexpensive; it only costs about $130 a year to work with each young person using mentor volunteers.” In the service of the work they do, Willo and her volunteers have established collaborative working relationships with the courts, juvenile community correction officers, high schools in Brunswick, Topsham and Freeport, and with police departments and social service agencies.
This presentation is the first in a series designed to inform and foster critical discussion among professionals, students, families and the public on emerging issues and priorities for youth mental health in Maine. As government funding shrinks for public mental health services, we are faced with the challenge of determining how families, schools and communities can help foster resilience and mitigate delinquency risk, including substance use, among our youth.
Please join us for this talk with Willo and take part in our roundtable conversation to discover ways to empower Maine youth and their families.