It is common knowledge that when young people need help they typically seek out their friends for advice and support. Although friends do the best they can to help, many young people do not have the skills to recognize the potential seriousness of an issue or they might simply have incorrect information.

On Nov. 2 and 3, 41 newly peer-nominated students between ninth and 12th grade, along with four faculty members were invited to participate in the sixth annual Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School peer outreach retreat. The retreat was cofacilitated by 11 senior student members.

The goal of the peer outreach program is to tap into the informal helping network that already exists among students. This extensive training provides these students, who are already serving as helpers, with current and accurate information about the issues that most concern them; teaches them the appropriate skills that will help them help their friends more effectively; and increases their involvement with their friends, their school, their families and their community.

In addition to the retreat training, each peer outreach student will participate in ongoing trainings throughout the school year. For these trainings, we will invite professionals from the community to educate these students in recognizing and addressing issues such as chemical abuse and dependency, depression and suicide, bullying, teen dating violence and sexual assault.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Alexandra M. Gagnon Foundation which generously awards the high school a yearly grant to support this retreat and our ongoing trainings. I would also like to thank the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center for providing us with a safe, comfortable space to meet.

Finally I would like to commend the 40 new peer outreach students and the faculty members that participated, as well as the 11 seniors who led the retreat. The combination of information these students received, skills they develop and their overall involvement will allow the peer outreach program to provide a comprehensive approach to help young people grow up healthy.

Amy Lilavois
Oak Bluffs

The writer is school adjustment counselor for the regional high school.