The Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety (AKFSA) and Friendship Circle in West Bloomfield are partnering to expand Friendship Circle’s UMatter program, focused on teen mental health. AKFSA will co-sponsor the program, providing a $250,000 grant in a five-year commitment.
The UMatter program strives to help teens and young adults who find themselves in isolation with a variety of programming focused on the idea that everyone truly matters. The program is facilitated by the UMatter Teen Leadership Board, a group of teens from area high schools who assist their peers by working to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health to provide support and friendship.
“When I began as director of our Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, which focused on isolation and life crises, my attention was drawn to the great need for teens to have positive messages about mental health issues. Out of those conversations, UMatter emerged,” said Rabbi Yarden Blumstein, director of Friendship Circle’s teen division of the Morrie and Sybil Fenkell Volunteer Club.
UMatter was launched in 2015 with one teen adviser and 15 teen leaders. In 2016, UMatter trained more than 300 individuals in suicide prevention and hosted four successful events.
In 2017 and 2018, public high schools and private middle and high schools are examining relationships with UMatter. Walled Lake Consolidated School District, among the largest districts in Oakland County, already has confirmed participation at all three of the district’s high schools for a UMatter Week. West Bloomfield High School and three other districts in the tri-county area also are considering hosting UMatter Weeks.
“With the support of the Andrew Kukes Foundation, we are focused on introducing 10 new high schools to hosting UMatter Weeks to reach more of our young people with the message that they are not alone and mental health deserves the same attention and care as our physical health,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive director of Friendship Circle.
“We started the Andrew Kukes Foundation six years ago, not only in tribute to our son Andy, but to help families and friends understand they need to be aware and involved in the mental health of those they care about, rather than just hoping things will work themselves out,” said Jeff Kukes, co-founder of AKFSA. “To honor Andy’s memory, it is important to us to support young people engaging their peers because the younger they receive support, the better the outcome.”
Andy Kukes took his own life after searching for years for the proper diagnosis and treatment of his social anxiety. Mental health professionals agree that the transitions from middle school to high school and high school to college are especially difficult for teens coping with mental health issues, and early intervention is critical in helping them overcome those challenges.
More about UMatter is available at Friendshipcircle.org/umatter. To participate or host a UMatter Week, email Umatter@friendshipcircle.org or contact Yarden Blumstein at Yarden@friendshipcircle.org or call (248) 788-7878 ext. 208.