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Banda Bear Helpers

Banda Bear Helpers

What is Banda Bear Helpers? 

Banda Bear Helpers is a sub group of Natural Helpers, which is a peer-to-peer helping program that has been successful in New Mexico since 1994. Thousands of New Mexico teens have been trained as Natural Helpers. The first Natural Helpers program in New Mexico began as a response to concerns from school leaders over teenage suicide and other problems. Natural Helpers is an effective response to a need that still exists. 

The program is based on the idea that when young people have problems, they often turn to friends whom they trust for help, and that within every school an informal "helping network" exists.  The program seeks to identify this informal network of young people who represent all the different subgroups within schools and provide training and support to those who are already serving as helpers.

The Natural Helpers program's strength is its adaptability. It can be tailored to fit a school's particular problems and needs, its students, and the adult sponsors without losing its integrity or effectiveness. Adaptations for New Mexico's diverse cultural groups are essential for any program's success; Natural Helpers is easily modified to address cultural differences. The Natural Helpers program can also be reshaped to accommodate varying budgets. 


Program Goals

Natural Helpers has three primary goals. The program aims to teach student members:

* Effective ways to help and support their friends and peers.

* Positive ways to take care of themselves and be cognizant of their own physical and mental health.

* Ways to contribute to creating safe and supportive school and community environments.


Who are Natural Helpers?

Natural Helpers students are not professional counselors or therapists. They are simply and literally "naturals" because they notice the needs of their friends and reach out to help them. Their friends feel comfortable going to them for support.  Natural Helpers deal with a wide range of youth problems.  The Natural Helpers program gives these students the tools and confidence to confront these issues with skills such as listening and problem-solving and referring friends to appropriate adult resources.  Ultimately their training serves to enhance the helping skills that they are already using among their peer group.  Natural Helpers also recognize their own limits as helpers and thus can be the link that is needed between young people and professional help.                                                                                                              

Typically, an anonymous school-wide survey identifies the young people that others seek out for help, resulting in a team of students representing different subgroups within the school. Those chosen get an invitation to join the group. A few select adults at the school (teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.) are also chosen through this survey process and become the adult "sponsors" of the program throughout the year. These adults serve as crucial sources of support and trust for students both in and out of the program. 


What do Natural Helpers do?


Those selected to be in Natural Helpers attend group meetings teaching those involved the critical skills (listening, helping, referring) to start them off in the right direction. Inevitably, bonds form among the group members (between students and adults as well!), creating a cohesive and supportive dynamic.


Ongoing Work

Students continue training and maintain their skills throughout the year. Groups find time to meet during the school day or after school. These weekly meetings help strengthen the "helping team", teach new skills and knowledge, and offer support to members. Over the course of the school year, Natural Helpers will learn and develop the following skills:

* Recognizing when help is needed

* Successful communication, including listening skills and problem solving

* Utilizing the "Helping Skill" to assist peers

* Recognizing when a situation is more serious and needs adult professional help. 

* Awareness of resources and ability to refer people to the appropriate helping source 

* Exercising self-care

They use these skills and the adult support provided to reach out one-on-one to friends in need. Natural Helpers groups also carry out service projects as part of their mission to reach out to their school and community.


Evaluation of Program Success

Since its first year in New Mexico, Natural Helpers has been evaluated in each school that hosts the program. Surveys are distributed to the Natural Helpers, the adult sponsors, and the school administration throughout the year to help determine the program's success. The data -- both qualitative and quantitative -- shows that Natural Helpers' presence in a school has positive effects. Surveys also tell us that the individual students who participate feel direct and positive effects of the program in their own lives.


*Information from