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USA Health University Hospital again welcomed teenagers from the local community to participate in Project Inspire, a mentorship program designed to build relationships and encourage young people in the Mobile community.

Published Aug 1st, 2019

By Lindsay Mott

USA Health University Hospital again welcomed teenagers from the local community to participate in Project Inspire, a mentorship program designed to build relationships and encourage young people in the Mobile community.

With a graduation ceremony held this week, some of the students are already seeing results with one getting a job and another taking part in a job interview through the help of the Project Inspire program.

Project Inspire is a three-week, hospital-based injury-prevention program that uses exposure and mentorship to inspire participants to become the best version of themselves. This year, University Hospital welcomed six teenagers from the local community who were previously involved in the Mobile County Juvenile Court System.

“Traumatic injury is the leading cause of death for all people aged one to 44,” said Ashley Williams, M.D., surgery chief resident physician at USA Health and co-founder of Project Inspire. “Intentional or violent injury is a national and a local public health crisis. In my opinion, the best way to address this issue is through prevention. Project Inspire aims to reduce violence by offering exposure and mentorship to teenagers in our very own community.”

Project Inspire gives the participants a chance to explore the level one trauma center at University Hospital while also interacting with mentors – both healthcare and community professionals. Each day includes four hours of shadowing and one hour with a featured speaker. This year’s participants were able to shadow staff in both clinical and administrative areas of the hospital.

They also participated daily in career planning activities such as ACT/GED preparation, resume’ development, mock interviews, training in Basic Life Support and Stop The Bleed, as well as two community service projects. The career-planning sessions are designed to give participants the chance to formulate a vision for their future careers and develop an action plan.

Project Inspire was an idea that Jon Simmons, M.D., trauma medical director and chief of trauma and acute care surgery at USA Health, had after previously witnessing a “scared straight” type of program. Williams participated in a similar program before coming to USA, and the two decided to collaborate.

“I have previously seen youth violence prevention programs attempt to reduce recidivism by showing the tragedy and disability that accompanies gun violence, but I thought these types of programs were missing a critical element, one that inspired the participants to change their lifestyle," Simmons said. "After some initial brainstorming with Dr. Williams, she was able to put together a program that contained elements providing inspiration, confidence, and strong mentorship.”

Project Inspire began in July 2018 with four participants completing the program. In the last year, none of the graduates have been negatively involved with law enforcement. One participant stayed enrolled in high school while one graduated high school, and two others received their GEDs while working. One participant in the same class was struggling with drug addiction but is now drug-free.

“If we could keep half of our children from coming back, we’ve done incredible things,” said Judge Edmond G. Naman, Mobile County Circuit Court judge and head of Mobile County Juvenile Court. “When we can say that, every child that went through this program, none reoffended in a year and have seen enhancements in their life, that’s what we want to see.”

Project Inspire works in collaboration with the Mobile County Juvenile Court System, which is specifically designed to curb gun violence. Although successful in its own right, the addition of Project Inspire has radically improved the outcomes for the kids in both programs. The participants are identified by the court system as candidates who stand to get a lot out of the program.

“You’ve taken them out of a dangerous situation and given them the building blocks to move forward with their lives in a positive way,” Naman said. “I know that Dr. Williams and the staff at University Hospital have had a big impact on doing just that, along with what we do with our probation staff.”

This year, police cadets from the Mobile Police Academy are providing transportation to University Hospital for the participants.

As participants graduate the program each year, Williams is committed to staying in touch with them after they finish the program and move forward in life.

“If we can impact one member of our community, we've made a huge difference,” Williams said. “If, then, that person has a positive impact on another, we've doubled our progress. We've only ignited change. Our participants will be the ambassadors of change in our community.”

In light of the success of this program in Mobile, city leaders from two neighboring states have asked Dr. Williams to help replicate Project Inspire in their cities.

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