May SEL Champion(s) of the Month - Project AWARE

Our SEL Champion for May is different from what we’ve done in the past. Instead of celebrating one champion, we are celebrating a group of individuals who are making a big difference in their community by working together. Introducing the powerful women behind Project AWARE, Rhonda Chuyka, the Project AWARE Manager, Mikaela Adkins, Project AWARE Therapist for pre-k through 8th grade, Tiffany Gray and Jesse Keeton, both Project AWARE Therapists. 


Project AWARE is a 5 year grant through SAMHSA that focuses on targeting and improving mental health and reducing substance abuse in youths. AWARE in Project AWARE stands for Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education. The Project AWARE program builds upon or expands the capacity of State Educational Agencies (SEA), and is in partnership with State Mental Health Agencies (SMHAs). Project AWARE works to advance wellness and resilience in education by increasing mental health awareness and resources in schools across states, territories, and tribal communities. 

Project AWARE also provides training for school personnel and other adults who interact with youths to learn how to detect and respond to mental health challenges. They help not only youths who may present with behavioral health challenges, but also their families who need services as well. 

Project AWARE programs have increased mental health literacy in schools and throughout the communities, they have removed the barriers families and youths face when trying to find adequate care, and ensured the cultural relevance of all school programs. Not only are the Project AWARE programs substantial, they are also customized based on the current needs of the school and community, and picked by the school's Student Support Team! Social emotional learning isn't a one-size-fits-all curriculum, and needs to be depending on those specific challenges each school faces. Project AWARE sees the importance in stepping away from the rinse and repeat cycle, and instead, continually evolves the programs and resources they provide depending on the needs of the community. 

Project AWARE utilizes the power of data to provide the best support for the youth in their communities. The data not only shows the schools, parents and teachers what is needed and how much change has occurred within their student body, it also increases accountability. Every student is accounted for, so therefore no student gets left behind. Even when students transition from middle to high school - the amazing staff of Project AWARE make sure the student's new Student Support Team (counselors + social workers + therapists in the schools), know each student, their individual needs and their personal challenges. No one is left alone trying to find resources on their own. 

Project AWARE is a year-long program. This differs from other programs which stop providing services when school is not in session, like summer break or holiday breaks. Project AWARE makes sure students never feel like the support they once received, has suddenly stopped. The counselors and therapists are also available for virtual visits, to help mitigate the stress of transportation to and from therapy or school. 

There is so much to say about this amazing group, but we will leave you with each Project AWARE staff member’s favorite part about their work. 

Rhonda Chuyka, the Project AWARE Manager’s favorite, is her team. She says that they are rock stars. She says that she is good at what she does but her team is magic. They’re the ones in the schools, coming up with amazing ideas. She says she loves how she can live through them with what they do with their students, but that they’re also part of her team and she gets the opportunity to work with them directly. 

Tiffany Gray, a Project AWARE Therapist, says her favorite part is how lucky she got with her team, and that they are all so passionate about their job and the difference they can make. When they all first started, they were all eager to hit the ground running, and create exciting new things, break generational curses of poverty. The energy in general, it’s easy for her to want to keep being creative and allow children to grow into who they were meant to be. 

Mikaela Adkins, a Project AWARE Therapist for pre-k through 8th grade says that her favorite part is just being able to be in the school with the kids, and being a familiar face to the kids, being someone they can count on day to day. 

Jesse Keeton, a Project AWARE Therapist, says that her favorite part is a mixture of what everyone said. She truly loves the kids she works with, and loves being in school with those kids. 

We want to extend a big thank you to all four of these amazing people and to Project AWARE, for making a difference in their community through their amazing work - they should be an inspiration to us all! 

** A quick note that iMPACTFUL will be taking a break from SEL Champions starting in July for the summer period. We will be back in the fall to start the school year off, right! This doesn't mean you have to stop nominating people from your community. Thank you to our past SEL Champions, and to those who nominated SEL Champions throughout this past year.  

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