Meet Jeanine, a Peer IMPACT Peer Leader Trainer who has been involved with IMPACT for 3 years. Jeanine co-leads Peer IMPACT—our leadership program that brings together middle school students with and without disabilities to challenge bullying and make their school safer.

Jeanine lives in Burlington and in addition to working for Peer IMPACT she attends business school at UMass Lowell with the hope of going into human resources work. She has always been ambitious. In high school, she got involved with EPIC, a program that empowers young people with disabilities to be leaders in making a difference in their communities, as well as InIt, a youth leadership initiative of the YW. Being involved in those programs in addition to attending school and managing 2 sports teams cemented for Jeanine that having a lot on her plate is worth it if the work she’s doing is meaningful.

Jeanine and IMPACT:Ability Coordinator Mandy Doyle co-lead Peer IMPACT at the Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester. Henderson is an inclusive school—students with disabilities are not separated from the other students. Instead, all the students learn and work together in one classroom with several supportive teachers. Jeanine believes in this classroom model: “I think that is really impactful to youth with disabilities because it really makes them realize that their whole life they’re going to have to interact with people who don’t have disabilities and they learn how to figure out and navigate their needs and have the world respect their needs.” It is also beneficial for youth without disabilities, who form learning partnerships and friendships with students they would otherwise have been segregated from.

Peer IMPACT is a year-long program. Jeanine oversees the work of four high school student peer leaders who were in the program when they were younger. This excites Jeanine: “Think about the schools that have City Year. They’re there all the time and the kids aspire to be a part of City Year. It’d be great if we could have our kids aspire to want to be a part of our program.” The Peer Leaders run team building exercises, self-reflection, and group discussions to foster self-advocacy and peer to peer support, prevent bullying, and build a community of kindness and respect within the school.

Doing work that fosters empathy and strengthens support systems is important to Jeanine. As a person with a disability and occasional anxiety and depression, Jeanine knows how difficult it can be to manage your mental health on top of navigating through an ableist world.

Her advice for anyone struggling with their mental health is to focus on the positives: keep a journal and for every bad thing that happened that day, come up with that many positive things. This exercise in gratitude and self-reflection is actually straight out of the Peer IMPACT curriculum, where every class ends with students coming up with what they liked from the class and what they would change. For both Jeanine and the students, maintaining that balanced perspective can be a sustaining force, made stronger by all the positives of a community dedicated to supporting and including each other.