The one-hour, once-a-week groups for teens, ages 12 to 19, will focus on supporting mental wellness and helping teens cope with challenges in healthy ways.

This summer the Sebastopol library will offer a series of free mental health classes for teenagers, thanks to an innovative partnership between the Sonoma County Library system and Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), a nonprofit offering mental health and housing services for youth.

The first group will be held on Tuesday, June 18, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Sebastopol Regional Library, 7140 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol.

Sebastopol is one of five libraries in the county, including Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Rohnert Park, that are piloting the six-week program this summer.

Rachel Icaza, education initiatives librarian for Sonoma County Library, said SAY approached the library system with the idea of creating mental health classes. Icaza said this is the first time the library has offered a group like this. 

According to Shelby Harris, communications officer for SAY, the one-hour, once-a-week groups for teens, ages 12 to 19, will focus on supporting mental wellness and helping teens cope with challenges in healthy ways.

Harris said the class will cover several topics, including “normal responses to loss and change, developing healthy coping skills, identifying complex emotions and making meaningful choices.”

Icaza said the groups will be led by a bilingual SAY clinicians “for teens who want to discuss any type of grief or struggle they are experiencing.”

She said there will also be opportunities for the teens to express and explore their feelings through art.

Harris said SAY devised the program on the advice of SAY therapists, who were worried about what students who normally use school mental health services will do once school is out.

“SAY therapists work in 30 schools around the county,” she said, “and once school is out for summer, there’s a real need in the community for the kind of mental health support services that schools usually provide.”

Sebastopol librarian Rosalie Abbott is excited that the library will be offering this program to teens over the summer.

“As the Young Adult Services Librarian at the Sebastopol Regional Library, I am absolutely thrilled that we will be hosting the Free Drop-in Wellness Group for teens,” Abbott said. “Every teen I've spoken with about the program is excited about it — when they hear about the offering you can see a look of surprise in their eyes — it’s like a breath of fresh air or an internal sigh of relief. We are incredibly grateful that qualified representatives from Social Advocates for Youth will be venturing out here to west county to work with our local youth at the Sebastopol Library.” 

In her role as a librarian for teens, Abbott knows firsthand how stressful teenagers’ lives can be these days.

“Many teens are doing very well and have good support systems, but every teen experiences some stress or anxiety. It’s not easy to be a teenager — someone is always telling them what to do, and expectations and pressures come from every direction. SAY will be offering teens tools to handle the challenges the big challenges as well as the small stressors that come up in their lives.”

Abbott said teenagers can drop in to any class and check things out.

“The format of the program is perfect for teens,” she said. “It’s drop-in, flexible and fun — so it’s excellent even for the busiest of teens.”

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