How a snap decision enhanced the health and well-being of Nova Scotia youth
By Jill Chappell
As Joe Biden’s team rolled out inauguration-themed Snapchat lenses, Finley Tolliver was prepping for his afternoon group chat on the same social platform with LOVE Nova Scotia’s Leadership Program. Tolliver has spent the past year establishing a virtual experience to keep LOVE youth together while apart.
“Today is the circle theory; it looks like a bullseye,” says Tolliver. “The inner circle represents family, close friends, or supporters. The outer circle would be people who’ve done you wrong. I throw out a question, something provocative or something really deep and the conversation goes from there.”
LOVE Nova Scotia works to help youth thrive through programs and healthy relationships that build emotional intelligence to overcome challenges
The group chat started last spring when the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person programming, compelling the youth worker and hip-hop artist to reimagine his approach, setting the stage for new connections. Noticing an uptick in stress, food insecurity, and mental health problems, Tolliver knew he had to act fast. Wanting to create a safe place for youth that felt like home, he stepped outside his comfort zone and into theirs with weekly Snapchat check-ins.
“The kids did not want to do it on Zoom. They’re all really connected to their phone and they wanted to do it on Snapchat,” says Tolliver “I can be on stage and perform in front of a thousand people but being on screen was petrifying. If there’s a conversation that’s risqué or something really, really heavy, I have to be able to have that conversation in real time.”
Learning the new language of Snapchat, Tolliver has become proficient in snap streaks, cameos, slang, and acronyms. Between the lines it was all about managing anxiety and depression, providing strategies for preventing negative self-talk and conflict resolution during uncertain times. Because of that emotional investment, he can now Snap with ease, and understands the intricacies of emojis, like the significance of each colour heart. (For example, red means “I love you,” orange signifies best friends, black means “I hate you.”)
“I used to use red but it’s too close,” laughs Tolliver. “They all have different meanings. So sometimes I have to use purple or sometimes I use yellow.”
The purple heart emoji is often used to represent love, support, or close bonds. The yellow means friendship and happiness: values he strives to bring to his work at LOVE Nova Scotia.
A recent study of youth participants by Saint Mary’s University psychology department shows an overwhelming majority feel they’ve gained emotional intelligence and coping skills, have access to a supportive group of peers, and have positive adult role models to look up to all as a direct result of their participation at LOVE.
“I like that I feel safe around my friends, and the food,” says one LOVE participant. “I learned to be more open about myself.”
“LOVE helped me to be more self-aware in terms of identifying what I want and what I need to be healthy,” says another.
The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is proud to help fund this organization that instills youth with leadership skills empowering them to build healthy relationships and lead meaningful, productive lives. While Tolliver looks forward to the day when the youth can meet in person again, he says the group chats will likely remain. Even though at times the style
of texting appears disjointed, he says no communication has really been lost.
“We’re communicating at the speed of light, really,” explains Tolliver. “Because of this new wave of conversation, we’re creating something that’s meaningful to them, that’s in real time. I am 100% down with this type of communication. It makes sense to me, it makes sense to them and has really broadened our relationship.”
“Going outside, hanging with my friends couldn’t happen so it was awesome to be able to connect with everyone in this group,” says a 16-year-old participant. “I think our relationship has grown pretty well and Finley can relate to a lot of the things that we are going through.”
By opening his mind to Snapchat, and learning to speak their language, Tolliver has created a social and emotional support system that will no doubt benefit their mental health and well-being for years to come.
“LOVE taught me to be empowered,” says one participant. “To understand that I have value and I have a lot to offer the world, whether other people see it or not.”
Another shares, “I don’t know if I’d still be here without LOVE.”
Finley and others like him are providing hope and newfound optimism reflective of the post-Trump era and more than anything, heartfelt LOVE for 70 deserving Nova Scotia youth.
Jill Chappell is the marketing and communications lead for the
Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. She is a regular contributor to Our Children and Senior Living, and previously worked as anchor/producer at Global Halifax and CTV Atlantic. When the laptop closes, Jill loves to get outdoors: hiking, biking, swimming, and making the most of Canada’s Ocean Playground with her husband and twin boys.