Listen. Learn. Love. These are our core values at the nonprofit, Libera, in West Virginia.
Libera’s goal is always to help the women and teens of our state tell their stories, identify and address the barriers in their lives, and connect them to resources to overcome those barriers. Our caring volunteer mentors accomplish this by listening with kindness and without judgment to conversations in small groups and one-on-one settings.
In January of 2020, we’d settled into a new groove: Lunchtime Listening. Every Monday a group of volunteers showed up shortly before noon at a local high school to listen to any students who wanted to talk.
Prior to initiating this particular project one volunteer asked, “Will teens really talk to middle-aged women?” Having already interacted with teens at this particular high school, our Executive Director said, “Absolutely. All I asked was, ‘Does anyone in your life listen to you?’ and every girl assured me no one in her life was listening to her. Not their parents, teachers, girlfriends, or boyfriends . . . The girls all agreed they weren’t being heard.”
To remedy this situation, we introduced the high schoolers to our Libera model—with small groups led by trained volunteers—where girls can connect, be seen, and heard in a safe environment. Lunchtime Listening would offer yet another opportunity for teen students to be heard by kind and caring volunteers.
Almost every week in the high school lunchroom, a new teen would ask to speak to one of us in private. To confess that she’d been contemplating suicide. Or to say she was experiencing anxiety or being bullied.
Sometimes students would approach the table asking for help for a friend who was self-harming or thinking about suicide. One girl was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend. In January and February of 2020 our always important work seemed even more so.
And then the pandemic happened. And the schools shut down.
At Libera we wondered, how will we support the students now?
Thankfully, we quickly adapted to hosting our small groups and volunteer trainings online. Zoom calls allowed us to reach individuals in brand new counties. Where other organizations stalled during the shutdown, Libera experienced a significant surge in activity.
One day our Executive Director got an idea. A wonderful, beautiful idea: LovePacks.
LovePacks are colorful drawstring backpacks filled with resources and activities to support students emotionally and mentally. These packs include: an age-appropriate book addressing anxiety and depression; journals with prompts; coloring books and crayons; items with crisis numbers to call or text; links to body safety and online safety videos; stress balls to squeeze; anxiety, depression, and bullying tools and resources; snacks, and more. Not only that, each
LovePack features a note, handwritten with love and kindness, from one of our volunteers.
The first LovePack recipients were students experiencing homelessness in a nearby county. Over 140 K-12 students received packs during the 2020 holiday break. We are currently preparing LovePacks for students that are part of the Healthy Grandfamilies program in Kanawha County, West Virginia, and plans are being laid to distribute them in local elementary schools.
The state-wide response to our LovePacks project has been enthusiastic. The week of Giving Tuesday, we raised enough funds to provide a second round of LovePacks to the students experiencing homelessness, slated to go out in May 2021 before school lets out for summer.
Various groups around the state are asking, “Can the at-risk kids in our community receive LovePacks?” We sure hope so! Why?
Because we know from experience when students are supported with kindness and helpful resources, lives are transformed in big ways, like this one:
“Libera changed my life. Before I got involved, I’d been going through the motions, letting everything well up inside until there was no more room. Libera taught me, and is still teaching me, how to free myself from the emotions that were dragging me down, and relate to my family better. They helped me realize the things that were holding me back from happiness.” —Libera Teen Participant
If you would like to learn more about Libera, or get involved in our work in the Mountain State, visit our website: www.liberawv.com.