Inside out youth services, mental health awareness award

Jessie Pocock, Executive Director (and team)

Inside Out Youth Services (IOYS) has been a safe space for LGBTQ+ youths in the Pikes Peak region since 1990. 

The nonprofit’s mission is to support the community through advocacy, education and community-building. For years, they’ve offered youth services, young adult programs, state-certified trusted adult trainings and LGBTQ+ classes, which are free and open to the public.

At Inside Out, there is a company-wide emphasis on mental health and well-being. In fact, this is at the core of the nonprofit when it comes to both the individuals the organization serves and those who make its work possible. In a survey, Communications Manager Alissa Smith noted that “[t]he value of these connections, formed between youth and youth, youth and staff, and staff and staff, cannot be overstated. Especially for a community that so frequently feels isolated from their peers and society.”

The bedrock of the nonprofit’s operations is a network of allied adults who help facilitate resources and support. At IOYS, the values expressed in the mission statement are the same values prioritized in the workplace.

“Inside Out is the single most supportive environment I have ever worked in,” says Smith. “There is so much open communication around mental health and so much understanding around it. Part of it is a natural extension of what we do with the young people. We try to abide by the same space rules, and we cultivate our team values based around ‘How can we show up as our best and most authentic selves?’ for these young people.” 

Team meetings begin with “check-ins” where employees can share successes, struggles, frustrations and anxieties with each other. In addition to these meetings, employees have weekly check-ins with the executive director. The IOYS staff often uses the same mental health tools they encourage IOYS youths to use. 

Mantras also carry over to the workplace. “Ask before assuming.” “Be radically inclusive.” “Ouch/Oops/Educate” (which refers to the process of acknowledging when you’ve hurt someone, apologizing, then learning). 

Mental health days — “which are taken very seriously” — are another way IOYS supports its staff. Cross-training allows for such mental health days; if one employee takes a day off, another can step in temporarily. 

“It’s just very open and very communicative in a way that is very rare,” says Smith, which she notes is in part due to the organization’s small size. “We have the freedom that a lot of larger organizations may not ... and we’re a really tight, cohesive team as a result.” 

Studies have shown that people who volunteer experience an array of health benefits. They report less depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, increased happiness over time, and better mental health overall. Though Smith contributes to the organization as a paid employee — not as a volunteer — the nature of her work, and the environment in which she works, has impacted her mental health positively. 

“It’s difficult work,” says Smith. “We’re serving a population that is more susceptible to negative health outcomes, at higher risk for substance use, higher risk for mental illness.” But the way her organization (and teammates) show up for her, she says, is what makes her able to show up for others: “I think being supported in this way helps us show up for this community because we don’t feel like we’re in it alone. And that’s huge. I think it’s everything.” 

IOYS’ approach to health is intersectional: Care for the well-being of their employees, who will go on to care for the well-being of the community they serve.

Colorado Publishing House is recognizing companies and organizations this week for promoting mental health and wellness in the workplace. Please join us in celebrating Inside Out Youth Services in this video with their Executive Director Jessie Pocock.