Member Spotlight: zGen Project

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In recognition of Suicide Prevention Awareness month, our member spotlight is on zGen Project. zGen joined TNOYS’ member network earlier this year. They provide trainings and evidence-based approaches on teen trauma identification, awareness, and intervention. At TNOYS, we’ve seen firsthand how elevating youth voices and building youth-adult partnerships can shift public perception and raise awareness about important topics. Read on to learn about zGen Project from Founder / Executive Director Cynthia “CeCe” O’Neal, and how the organization is helping promote mental health awareness among systems-involved youth and young adults.


Tell me about zGen Project. How did the organization get started?

A friend of my son committed suicide in high school – a young lady I knew well and someone who showed no outward signs that she was even considering suicide. My heart was broken, and the hearts of those who knew and loved her were also. I knew then that I wanted to be part of the solution. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 15-19 and the leading cause for those aged 14-15, according to the CDC. zGen Project’s services of bringing awareness to schools and providers, building partnerships with youth-serving organizations, and workshops with youth and young adults work toward reducing these statistics and helping systems-involved youth and young adults.

What services and programming does zGen Project provide?

Our Flagship Program is called “The AIM High Initiative,” where we provide mental health programming assessments for organizations. We provide inspirational workshops for teens on various topics, including self-esteem, healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, personal leadership development, and how to stand against bullying. For community leaders, we host a workshop called” A Community Preventative Approach to Teen Suicides,” For parents, we host a workshop titled “How to Build Self Esteem in Your Teen.” We are also launching a suicide prevention coalition (more information to follow on this).

Explain how your training, “A Community Preventative Approach to Teen Suicides,” was developed. 

“A Community Preventative Approach to Teen Suicides” was developed through intense research on best practices in teen suicide prevention. We also reviewed an extensive amount of case studies on effective community collaboration techniques across various health care concerns, including teen suicide ideation and completion. 

What does the phrase “R U Ok?” mean to you? How can youth-serving providers (in communities and schools) talk to young people about their health and behavioral health?

The phrase, “R U Ok?” refers to whether or not a person is fully aware of their current mental state of mind, and if there are areas that need to be addressed, they have the confidence to reach out to others to get the help they need.

Mental health support is especially important for those who have experienced foster care, homelessness, juvenile justice, commercial sexual exploitation of youth, and/or other systems involvement. How does zGen work to make sure systems-involved youth and young adults are represented in your programming? 

Youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, foster care, juvenile justice, and other systemic involvement are often more likely to experience mental health challenges than their peers. We partner with organizations that serve these populations to help identify best practices for engagement. zGen is looking to establish more partnerships with TNOYS members that want to support the health and behavioral health of the youth and young adults we serve. 

What are zGens’ plans for the future? Anything else you want to mention?

We are in the process of developing our strategic plan for 2023. We will be sharing our plan after our leadership team strategy meeting taking place in early December.

How can youth-serving providers (in communities and schools) talk to young people about their health and behavioral health? 

The most important aspect of communicating with a young person about their behavioral health is making sure that your conversation focuses on answering the question, “How are you really doing?” It’s important that the teen feels heard and that the youth-service provider shows genuine interest and concern.

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