After four student suicides in the 2001-02 school year at Green Mountain High School, GHS counselor Sandy Austin created the B.I.O.N.I.C. Team so caring students could connect with people who might …
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Apprentice of Peace Youth Organization
My Quiet Cave
After four student suicides in the 2001-02 school year at Green Mountain High School, GHS counselor Sandy Austin created the B.I.O.N.I.C. Team so caring students could connect with people who might be in trouble or feel isolated. The name is an acronym for “Believe It or Not I Care.”
In the years that followed the creation of the school club, it expanded to other schools and Austin estimates 1,200 students in several B.I.O.N.I.C. school clubs reached out to more than 140,000 people facing tough times. Inspired to touch even more lives, Austin decided to evolve her school club idea into a nonprofit organization.
“All the pressures on kids today, they feel more isolated and alone than ever before,” Austin said.
B.I.O.N.I.C. focuses on reaching out to people experiencing specific situations: new students; students who are out of school for an extended time because of illness; students who are lonely or overwhelmed; kids that loose loved ones and experience tragedy; and students who are being bullied.
Gage Crispe is one student who says he was helped by this group.
While a sophomore at Green Mountain, he lost a close friend to suicide.
“After that, I didn’t know what my outlet should be,” said Crispe, now 25. “I had never experienced loss like that before. I had no idea what I should be doing, what grief looked like, how to cope.”
Crispe got involved in the B.I.O.N.I.C. Team at his school, which he said taught him how to understand his grief and how to be a support for others.
Austin, who now leads the club at Pomona High where she is currently a counselor, enrolled in the Nonprofit Pathways program at Red Rocks Community College, where learned about The Innovators Society.
The Innovators Society, a program of Community First Foundation, invests in promising, but not yet proven, innovations to increase awareness and change perceptions of mental health. They engage a network of passionate community leaders to accelerate new solutions for mental wellness.
“It is important that as a community we come together around this stigma of mental health,” said Noah Atencio, vice president of community impact at Community First Foundation. “Through The Innovators Society nonprofit accelerator program, we cultivate the most innovative ideas for improving mental wellness and expand them in Denver communities faster than otherwise possible.”
B.I.O.N.I.C. was one of six innovations selected for The Innovators Society 2.0 in which mental health non profits pitched their ideas to gain funding and spent several months to develop a plan to scale their nonprofits. At the pitch in June, audience members voted in real time to give away $500,000 in grant money from Community First Foundation.
Following the pitch in June, Austin and other nonprofits in the accelerator program met with coaches for training and professional development in areas such as financial stability, marketing, and other elements to make a nonprofit successful.
After meeting with coaches, all teams created an implementation plan. Evaluation of that plan, the pitch, letters of support and coach feedback was done by a panel of community members.
At the end of the six month program, the panel chose B.I.O.N.I.C. as the grand prize winner, earning themselves an additional $50,000 in grant money, bringing its total funding throughout the program to $185,050.
“Hearing from experts in many fields — Community First Foundation staff, coaches, advisers, and the strategy labs — accelerates how we are able to roll out B.I.O.N.I.C. as a new nonprofit,” Austin said. “The money, time, and effort spared through this process will help us have the greatest impact possible. Young people will more effectively be able to handle tough times with the supportive and caring communities B.I.O.N.I.C. creates.”
For Austin, scaling the nonprofit means making the program available to schools worldwide. They will be making a starter kit with a manual for all schools who are interested in developing a program and hosting conferences during Spring Break throughout Colorado.
“We’re getting it out there quickly and getting schools curriculum so they can start a club in fall,” Austin said.
The nonprofit also plans to create webinars and hold a leadership conference in the fall.
“All the kids who are struggling, falling through the cracks when they face challenging times, we’re getting kids the tools to be able to get through those challenging times and give them a home,” Austin said. “It’s kids reaching out to kids to let them know that there are people out there that care about them.”
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