Social and Community Context: Nurturing Mental and Physical Health through Exercise, Connection, and Peer Support

From a young age, children are exposed to factors in their home, school, and community environments that shape their understanding of their health, their relationships with others, and their personal growth and development in the world. We know that community efforts play a large role in the development and care of young people and their families, which is why our support of social and community organizations in 2023 is anticipated to provide 380,000 individuals with access to healthy activities that benefit their physical and mental health.

Youth Support and Guidance: Raising Generations of Changemakers and Community Advocates

Finding Hope in Grief: A Healing Place Where Children, Teens, and Adults Are Not Alone

Empowering Girls Through Exercise, Social Connection, and Life Skills Development

A group of people exercising

Youth Support and Guidance: Raising Generations of Changemakers and Community Advocates

Adolescence is a pivotal time for developing social, emotional, and physical lifestyle habits that are essential to overall health and well-being. Many individual and societal factors, from family life to social programs and access to extracurricular outlets, influence the mental health of young people. For minority and marginalized young people, there are even more risk factors that contribute to mental health difficulties.

As kids develop their own identities in relation to the world around them, forming positive friendships and social connections can play a critical role in their psychological growth, and in developing values of empathy, compassion, and honesty to carry with them through each challenge and stage in life.

The Boys & Girls Club (BGCP) of Parkersburg, West Virginia provides a range of programs that support the needs of young people and their families and encourage youth to meet their full potential as productive, caring, and responsible citizens.

Through its programs centered around the arts, education, sports & recreation, health & wellness, workforce readiness, and character & leadership, BGCP caters to the individual and diverse needs of each member, offering them a toolkit of support and skills to excel in different areas of life. BGCP's Health & Wellness programs are designed to nurture young people's well-being and help them set personal goals and grow into self-sufficient adults. More than 350 kids and teens visit BGCP annually to participate in their outcomes driven prevention and education programs that focus on topics such as drug and alcohol use, premature sexual activity, responsibility, financial literacy, and STEM.

BGCP's youth outcome data speaks volumes about the skills and self-sufficiency the organization instills in its members, and the myriad ways it encourages youth to be active and positive changemakers in their communities. In 2023, 88% of Club youth reported that as a leader, they make sure everyone feels important. Sixty-seven percent of regularly attending members said they volunteered in their community, Club, school, or neighborhood at least once in the past year.

Our support of BGCP has allowed us to continue investing in the health and well-being of new and future generations, and in the opportunities afforded to youth and families in West Virginia.

Girls learning

Finding Hope in Grief: A Healing Place Where Children, Teens, and Adults Are Not Alone

Grief can be an incredibly isolating experience. One in 12 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling before they graduate high school, yet many children feel they have nowhere to go or no one to turn to while processing the loss of a family member or loved one.

When walking the road of grief and loss, it’s critical that individuals have a community of support, others who know what they are going through and can accept them where they are in their grief journey.

For over 25 years, the Highmark Caring Place has served grieving children from birth to high school graduation in Central and Western Pennsylvania through facilities in Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh, and Warrendale. Through peer support, children and their families are offered a safe place to connect with others in similar situations after the death of someone important in their lives. Virtual support groups for young adults are also provided.

Since its founding, the Caring Place has served more than 100,000 community and family members. Consultation services, presentations and resources for schools and other professionals are also provided. Through the support and commitment of Highmark, all services are provided at no charge to those in need from throughout the community.

A New Facility in the Harrisburg Area
The Caring Place in Central Pennsylvania recently announced it has moved to a new home on the Highmark campus in Camp Hill. Formerly located in Lemoyne, the Caring Place in the Capitol Region has served thousands of children and teens since opening its doors 20 years ago.

During a typical evening at the Caring Place, when children and families first arrive, they gather in a large room to eat dinner together, and then explore activities in the center's various age-appropriate spaces.

Aside from a small team of staff, the organization is primarily volunteer driven, with around 140 volunteers who receive 30 hours of training so they can offer the best support and guidance to the children and their families.

Nancy, whose husband died when her children were 5, 7, and 10 years old, brought her children to the Caring Place for help and support in their grief.

"It really helped them to be with other kids their own age," said Nancy. "It's just being able to connect with people who have been through similar loss."

We celebrate the many thousands of families, like Nancy’s, who have found hope and healing through the programs of the Highmark Caring Place over more than a quarter-century of serving our communities throughout Western and Central Pennsylvania.

Empowering Girls Through Exercise, Social Connection, and Life Skills Development

The interaction between mental and physical health is undeniable, and it's imperative that communities have access to programs and resources that honor all aspects of their health and well-being.

Over the years, we have supported many organizations and events that address the interconnectedness of mental and physical health, including the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race presented by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon in West Virginia. Both races hold significance for the regions they represent and give communities an opportunity to prioritize their physical health, while finding solace in their community and connections with others.

Girls on The Run (GOTR) is a national nonprofit that has served more than two million girls across North America, introducing them to physical and social outlets that help them build self-confidence and recognize their potential. We support GOTR programs in Delaware, Central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley, and Western and Northeastern New York.

We have been supporting GOTR Buffalo for both the Spring and Fall 5K since 2011, the Buffalo council serves 2,500 girls annually from 120 sites with more than 450 volunteers from the community supporting the young girls from all eight counties of Western New York. We’re also the presenting sponsor of the Spring and Fall 5K for GOTR Northeastern New York, which has served 2,900 girls, trained 500 volunteer coaches, and served 60 locations throughout the region.

In Pennsylvania, we have supported GOTR’s Lehigh Valley chapter for more than 10 years, building a strong partnership that has provided hundreds of girls in third to eighth grade with financial assistance to participate in the enriching social and physical outlets GOTR offers. GOTR Lehigh Valley has been providing physical activity-based youth development programming since 2007, and it recently merged with the Pocono area council to serve a larger territory of families and girls. In addition, we have supported GOTR Delaware since 2006.

A longitudinal study was conducted by GOTR International in 2023 to demonstrate the organization’s impact on girls’ physical activity, mental and emotional health, and development of life skills. The study revealed an 85% improvement in GOTR members' confidence, competence, caring, character, and connection, and an increase in members’ physical activity by more than 40% since the start of the 2023 season. The results also showed that 97% of GOTR participants have gained critical life skills in areas including helping others, decision making, managing emotion, and resolving conflict.

Addyson, a GOTR Capital Region participant, noticed a great change in herself since participating in the program.

"Girls on the Run gave me self-confidence to accomplish things that might be hard in my life, and really just taught me to be brave and be strong."

Another participant, Reina, spoke about a key lesson she has taken away from GOTR.

"At Girls on the Run, I learned it is so important to give back to your community."

Although GOTR focuses largely on empowering girls through physical activity, it prides itself on being about so much more than just running. It offers research-based activities and programs to help individuals of all abilities recognize their unique strengths and grow alongside their peers, to be the best possible versions of themselves.