Youth and Family Services offers Be REAL program for local students

Program comes by way of the University of Washington.

Prior to the pandemic, Mercer Island’s Youth and Family Services (YFS) had an eye on addressing the ascending trends in mental health concerns for college students and recent high school graduates.

When COVID hit, the urgency reached an even higher mark to connect with students, said Rachel Montgomery, YFS’ Healthy Youth Initiative coordinator.

“We reached out to the (University of Washington) and asked to get more information on their Be REAL program and to see if we could apply it on Mercer Island. To our good fortune, they were really excited to do that,” Montgomery added.

The Be REAL (REsilient Attitudes & Living) program is situated within the UW’s Center for Child & Family Well-Being, and YFS will launch the program on the Island for local high school graduates from classes 2017-2021 who are age 18 and up. YFS will begin virtually mentoring and coaching its first 15-to-20-person cohort in the research-based program and study this month, and another cohort will take part in Be REAL in August.

The groups will meet during the free 90-minute sessions for six weeks, and students who moved off the Island can participate as well. Students who have been in college for more than a year have been emailing YFS to request spots in the program.

As students’ lives change after high school as they enter the college world, Montgomery said the program will guide them toward “taking time to focus on effective coping, self compassion, mindfulness, how to flourish, how to feel social connection, reduce your perception of stress.”

Robyn Long, director of Community Programs & Training at the Center for Child & Family Well-Being, provided some insight into how Be REAL has impacted students: “College students can be especially hard on themselves. Participants in Be REAL have shared that the program allowed them to learn how to dial down self-criticism and be kinder to themselves.”

Through its connection with students, Montgomery said that YFS’ effort to support their mental health and resiliency is more significant than ever as they help them transition into new phases of their lives.

Tambi Cork, YFS administrator, said that as students depart for college in the fall — including those who have been home for a year during the pandemic — the Be REAL program will be greatly beneficial to their upcoming journeys.

“The more we can create an atmosphere where our young adults are launching in a way where they have more skills, more resiliency, more ability to be adaptable, the better I think they’ll fair long term,” she said.

Liliana Lengua, director of the Center for Child & Family Well-Being, added: “Although a program like this can not replace mental health services when they are needed, prevention programs that support stress management and coping can help to prevent increases in distress, and can be part of a continuum of resources available to students.”

To register for the program, visit: