Often junior high school represents adolescents’ first exposure to real-life stressors and adversities. This “passage”—from carefree childhood to young adulthood—is nurtured by the EveryBody Matters (EBM) program. A collaboration of Elyssa’s Mission and Womencare Counseling Center, EveryBody Matters creates a safe place where adolescents collaborate to develop a model of responsible leadership, cultivate personal power and voice, and transform challenges into opportunities for growth.

Each year one school is selected to receive EveryBody Matters programming.  Aptakisic Junior High School was chosen during the 2012-13 school year, and has subsequently facilitated successful EBM programs independently each year thereafter.  This year, Aptakisic Junior High School received mini-grant funding from the Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW) to help subsidize the costs associated with this program.

Co-facilitated by Carolyn Lewis (school social worker) and Maggie Pennoyer (school psychologist), EveryBody Matters helped designated 8th grade Aptakisic students build self-esteem, conflict resolution ability, and  leadership and communication skills. As the students learned to identify their strengths and communication styles they were able to collaborate to bring a successful service project fundraiser, “Hard-Core Spirit Week” to the student body. The week’s activities culminated in a dance that was planned and implemented by EveryBody Matters participants.

The students who planned the service project used research methods and the social media platform to develop a plan for the project. The result was creative, effective, and inclusive of everyone in the student body. “Hard Core Spirit Week” ran Monday through Thursday. Each day highlighted a different social service cause in conjunction with a fun theme. At the end of the week, the student body voted on their preferred cause, and Friday night a fundraising party/event at the school raised money for the LUNGevity, the selected cause.

Friday night’s dance was both created and led by EBM group members who formed their own committees, planned and implemented all event promotion and advertising, and handled all logistics from music list and game development to t-shirt design to chaperone procurement. They also collaborated with administration to arrange food sales in addition to paid admission.

EveryBody Matters helped to build confidence, communication style, courage, and analytical thinking in the students who planned the events. The project demanded careful planning, attention to detail, and strong leadership—and in the end, they raised more than $500 for LUNG-evity!

Though the group who organized the fundraiser was comprised of girls, Aptakisic also ran a pilot program for boys developing leadership skills as well as self-esteem, communication, conflict resolution, and program planning. In summing up the EveryBody Matters experience, school social worker Carol Lewis said, “Our students have enhanced leadership skills through developing self-esteem, communication, conflict resolution, self-awareness, perspective taking, organization and planning skills, and more.” She added “It is an amazing sight to see the changes the girls have made in their dynamics interacting with each other, expressing themselves, and accepting themselves and others.”