“It’s really about helping to improve the outcomes of these young people.” Greg Dicharry, Magellan Health Services national youth empowerment director
Amber Disotell, 16, enjoys writing poetry and camping outdoors when she’s not focusing on her schoolwork.
But if it weren’t for MY LIFE, Magellan Health Services’ “youth empowerment” program, Disotell, who once spent the night at the Baton Rouge Juvenile Center, shudders to think what kind of trouble she might be in these days.
“I never thought I’d come this far in my life,” Disotell said Saturday afternoon at MY Fest, an event in its first year put on by Magellan, the Connecticut-based company hired by the state in 2012 to manage mental and addictive disorder services for 150,000 troubled Louisiana children, youth and adults.
The event, held in the North Boulevard Town Square, featured five hours of live music entertainment from a variety of artists. Organizers also provided inflated space walks, face painting, food and several dozen information tables for various agencies involved with the Louisiana Behavioral Health Partnership.
Disotell said she hopes the festivities, which attracted hundreds of people throughout the cool, sunny afternoon, will encourage more troubled teenagers to participate in MY LIFE’s monthly meetings held at the Family Youth Service Center on Government Street.
The meetings are geared toward young people between the ages of 13 and 23 who have experienced issues with mental health, juvenile justice, substance abuse or foster care.
About 20 participants, mostly teenagers, show up for the meetings in Baton Rouge, which have been held for about a year and a half, said Greg Dicharry, Magellan’s national youth empowerment director who helped create MY LIFE in 2008 in Arizona.
Through meetings that often feature storytelling, inspirational speakers and presentations by the attendees, troubled young people learn to cope with varying issues, Dicharry said.
“It’s really about helping to improve the outcomes of these young people,” he said, adding that the attendees often lack hope, confidence or self-worth when they first begin attending meetings.
Magellan Youth Leaders Inspiring Future Empowerment, or MY LIFE, is free for participants because the program is funded by Magellan without the use of state funds, said Jill Dyason, a system development manager at Magellan and a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board.
The company has reached out to schools, health care facilities and churches in an attempt to grow the program, which Dyason said has had success improving the lives of participants in other states.
For Disotell, a 10th-grader at Northdale Superintendent’s Academy, MY LIFE has forced her to stay focused on school, because as the program’s co-chairwoman, other participants look up to her, she said.
“I still have my everyday mistakes,” Disotell said, “but I’m making it. I’m doing good.”