Peer Health Exchange Los Angeles Program Director Jeff Burbulys has supported and guided health educators at Cal-State University Northridge (CSUN) through what has been a very difficult year. From the Thousand Oaks shooting, fire alerts, and shooting threats on campus, he reflects on the year and the resilience of health educators in seeking help, providing support, and building community through Peer Health Exchange.
This past year, CSUN Peer Health Exchange volunteers, along with the students they serve in high schools, withstood severe fires in and near the San Fernando Valley. In the Fall, the Thousand Oaks shooting and an active shooting threat on campus forced the campus to close the university the week of finals.
With these tragedies, CSUN Peer Health Exchange volunteers found solace with each other and began building the foundations of not just resiliency but also a place to belong.
To process these events and provide space for volunteers to interact and build a sense of community, CSUN Leadership began to hold “space and place” to express themselves.
Monthly campus-wide events were made to allow volunteers to outreach and inform the greater CSUN community about Peer Health Exchange as a safe space to express themselves.
Open Mic night was one such event that was held in both school semesters. The Open Mic night allowed volunteers and other CSUN students to voice their opinions about not just the events on their campus, but also process their emotions through songs, dance, or other forms of self-expression. CSUN Leadership provided coffee and snacks to accompany these nights.
Additionally, CSUN held 30-minute pre-events varying from process coffee chats to holiday celebrations including a “do it yourself” candy gram station for Valentine’s Day, all the while preparing for teaching in the classrooms.
Finally, CSUN workshop group meetings became two hours (traditionally Peer Health Exchange workshop group meetings are about an hour and a half) with leadership council members rotating leading training with the cohort as a whole. These are just a few of the community building activities CSUN students held to build community amongst their peers.
With these events, the CSUN Peer Health Exchange’s retention rate skyrocketed from averaging at around 50% in 2017-2018 to over 75% in 2018-2019!
The new relationship-centered model also served as a reinforcement for volunteers feeling connected to the community, often incorporating and listening to student voices about how these tragedies have affected teens as well. This spirit of resiliency and passion towards Peer Health Exchange provided a very successful ending to a very difficult year for these volunteers and we are proud to show up with them.
Jeff Burbulys is the Peer Health Exchange Los Angeles Program Director. He is responsible for leading strategic investments, effectively implementing the Peer Health Exchange program, and supporting the Los Angeles Executive Director in executing the local strategic plan.