UpStreet Removes Teen Mental Health Support Barriers With Squirrel Hill Drop-In Center
Organization breathes new life into the former Forward Lanes in hopes of impacting local youth.
The walls of the former Forward Lanes in Squirrel Hill may no longer reverberate with the sound of bowling balls crashing into pins, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t life left in the space.
The staff of Jewish Family & Community Services and its UpStreet platform have been renovating the former home of Pittsburgh’s oldest bowling alley to bring free mental health counseling services to local youth and young adults. Donations received through a capital campaign, grant funding and other contributions have helped offset the cost of the improvements.
The drop-in center at 5844 Forward Ave. will serve anyone between the ages of 12 and 22, no matter their Allegheny County ZIP code. Its staff expects mostly teens who attend Pittsburgh Allderdice high school and those who live in the Squirrel Hill area will drop in once the center is completed this summer. The space will mostly be open after school and in the evenings on weekdays, but hours will be set by trial-and-error.
UpStreet, which was launched in October 2020 to help young people access free mental health care, also has counselors available to chat online. Teens and young adults can also schedule appointments or seek a peer mentor through the site.
Erin Barr, UpStreet’s clinical coordinator, said the plan for the drop-in center was in the works when the pandemic hit in 2020. When everything was shut down, the organization shifted to virtual sessions to assist young people in need of mental health care.
Since its inception, UpStreet has drawn more than 800 teens seeking some type of help. Clients have been served virtually in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette and Westmoreland counties.
“It can be difficult for families to access services for a number of reasons,” Barr notes. “Even if you can find services, you might be waiting months and months to even get in. We wanted to provide barrier-free and accessible services for young people. We take a holistic approach to teen wellness.”
Once the space is open, Barr says a young person can just show up during operating hours and talk with a therapist.
She stresses not every situation requires therapy.
“They might just be having a bad day or struggling to process something,” she explains. “Since the pandemic, young people in school forgot how to start conversations, resolve conflicts and be in a crowded environment. We are still seeing some of that. But, we are also seeing a lot of depression and anxiety associated with the pressures of high school, like grades and extracurriculars.”
The staff of three, full-time licensed therapists — Alliyah Kimbrough, Shelby Williams and Stephanie Rodriguez — will be joined by four or five graduate assistants who are working on their master’s degrees in counseling. Activities at the center will also include meditation and mindfulness groups, as well as career readiness and a focus on life after high school.
Barr, a licensed clinical social worker, has been with Jewish Family & Community Services since 2003, when she started as a foster care/adoption caseworker.
She believes this program is meeting a dire need in the city. Pittsburgh has 44,000 young adults. Statistically, 20% struggle with their mental health in the U.S. and suicide is the No. 2 cause of death, second only to accidental deaths.
“This will be a safe space for teens to decompress after school or for young adults to receive the help they need,” she says.