Momentum Fellow Spotlight: Sharon Neiss Arbess
Sharon Neiss Arbess is a writer, an advocate for adolescent mental health, and a JWRP Momentum Fellow who lives in Toronto, Ontario. In our interview, she shares how her innovative Momentum Fellowship Project can help teens build resiliency, as well as the power of patience.
What inspired you to participate in the Momentum Fellowship?
Two women, who work with the JWRP, and who I admire very much, encouraged me to apply for the Momentum Fellowship for two reasons. 1. They know that I work hard and persevere. 2. They read my book, which is filled with life lessons and is also pretty funny. They put the two together and thought that I would be a perfect fit for this program.
Tell us about your Momentum Fellowship project.
My project is called Brave The Waves: Programs for Teen Resiliency. It seeks to provide support for kids and teens — specifically for those in grades 6 and 7 — as they cope with life’s stressors. My book, Me and My So-Called Friends, will be the primary teaching tool. By using the novel’s relatable characters, facilitators will prompt kids to participate in activities and conversations about difficult social and academic situations. Kids will learn coping strategies to help manage distress in a fun and collaborative environment.
Why did you decide to launch your project?
Ilana Rubenstein, my City Leader, inspired me, as well as the day-to-day struggles I see adolescents face. I think we need accessible literature with relatable storylines and characters that engage kids, with the purpose of inspiring open discussion about the issues they face. I feel continuously encouraged when parents tell me, “I had to tear my daughter away from the book to come and eat dinner!” I want to provide a platform from which to build support systems so kids don’t feel like they have to confront challenges alone.
What are some of the highlights in preparing to launch your project?
I love seeing the excitement on people’s faces when I tell them about my program. The feedback I get includes comments, like: “That is so needed!”; “Please come to my kid’s school!”, and “I have goosebumps!”
I’ve also loved receiving feedback from my social media posts, support from Ilana and my cohort of JWRP sisters, and getting featured in the Canadian Jewish News. That was such a thrill!
So far, I have taken part in two advisory board meetings that included social workers, psychologists, and teachers who are all JWRP sisters. Together, we are shaping how the program will look. Their expertise has helped me tremendously.
This year, our Toronto cohort will present our projects to JWRP’s partner organizations.
What were some of the lessons that you learned along the way?
Be patient when brainstorming ideas. The answer will come. It took me three tries and several days in between to come up with my title. I recorded this journey on Instagram, which was both amusing and gratifying.
In addition, our Toronto cohort recently had a guest facilitator who works in marketing. She told us “Don’t try to boil the ocean!” This means, don’t try to take on too much. I loved her advice and, as a result, I am trying to keep my program simple, effective and impactful.
Which Jewish values are intrinsic in your work?
The Torah tells us that you should teach your child how to swim. Through my book and programs, I am, metaphorically speaking, attempting to do just that. I want to teach adolescents how to handle the unpredictable and turbulent waves of teenage life. When you learn how to swim, you keep your head above water, manage whatever waves come your way, and ultimately, get where you want to go.
How can women around the world utilize your project to support teens in their communities?”
Once I publish my program, it will be available throughout North America and the world. You can order it, see what speaks to you, and then adapt it to fit the needs of your community.