Spotlight & Webinar Recap: Our Social Support Fellowship

Spotlight & Webinar Recap

On March 30th, 2022, our Understanding Social Connectedness Among Young Adults webinar went live. In addition to our founder and CEO, Dr. Danielle Varda and our Network Data Scientist, Dr. Rose Y. Hardy, we were fortunate to be joined by our three outstanding Social Support Research Fellows: Martha Gonzalez, Kyra Stoute, and Zoe Crocker.

From the onset of the pandemic, young adults have been increasingly reporting alarming levels of loneliness and isolation. When experts try to better understand social connectedness or lack thereof among the age group, it usually consists of high-level discussions from experts in academia, clinical settings, and others involved in work with young adults.

But to truly understand how young people are thinking and developing behaviors around social connectedness, you have to go to the source: young adults themselves. We decided to do just that. Sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Social Support Research Fellowship is a partnership between Visible Network Labs and the Fellows to better understand social connectedness and social support from the perspective of young people.

The partnership, which began in July 2021, allowed our Data Science team to work alongside the Social Support Fellows. The Fellows generously shared their lived experiences, insights, and lenses to create and modify social support and social connectedness measurement tools for young people.

They’ve also used their expertise gained during their fellowship to connect with other young adults, in order to better understand social connectedness among their age group. We were joined by our Fellows:

  • Martha Gonzalez of Atlanta, GA, current student at Atlanta Metropolitan State College
  • Zoe Crocker of Orlando, FL, current student at the University of South Florida
  • Kyra Stoute of Atlanta, GA, current student at Georgia State University
Social Support Fellows

Involved in the first semester of the Fellowship was Yamilex (Yami) Cruz, of Baltimore, MD. She is a co-founder of the Parqueologia Migrante project, and contributed to the findings that were presented in the webinar. Kimberly Spring, who is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Annie E. Casey Foundation also presented briefly during the webinar, providing information on the Foundation and its initiatives. 

Dr. Rose Y. Hardy and Kaley Bachinski from our Data Science team have been working closely with the Fellows throughout their time with us. Dr. Hardy outlined the process the Fellows undertook to garner insights from their peers. These steps were:

  1. Develop key informant interview guide 
  2. Conduct informant interviews with young adults (n=28)
  3. Modify PARTNERme survey for young adults
  4. Pilot test PARTNERme survey (n=43)

On working with our Fellows, Dr. Hardy said “It has been a pleasure to work with Zoe, Kyra, Martha, and Yami over the past year. We learn something new from them each time we meet, whether it’s a new way to phrase a question or contextualize an answer or communicate a finding. I am always appreciative of their focus on how we make what we’re doing actionable and valuable to young people. Plus, they’re all just wonderful young women. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next!”

During their interviews with 28 young adults, the fellows gathered thoughts on how they connected to each other as well as to older generations, their experiences with organizations offering support, and factors that made them more or less likely to accept help from these organizations.

The Fellows and Dr. Hardy then began to think about how they would want to measure social connectedness in a quantitative way. Utilizing VNL’s PARTNERme survey tool, which takes a person-centered perspective to map an individual’s social support network, the team pilot tested a PARTNERme survey to 43 young adults to gain the findings the Fellows presented in this webinar.

We were joined by Zoe, Kyra, and Martha for the webinar. Read on for more highlights from the Fellows’ presentations.

To begin introductions of the Fellows, they were posed two initial questions:

  • What inspired you to join the Social Support/Social Connectedness Fellowship?
  • How will you take what you are learning and apply it to your life and career?

Zoe Crocker – Orlando, Florida

When asked what inspired her to join us in our work on social connectedness, Zoe said “I’m currently majoring in Social Sciences, and I was really excited to do research related to my field that would also help young people like myself.” 

In regards to what she learned, and its application to her life and career, Zoe said “I am a volunteer chat room moderator for my youth group, Orlando Youth Alliance, and we work a lot with young adults in the 13-24 age range, so I can take a lot of what I’ve learned here about connecting and supporting young people and use that to give more support to some of the chat room members going forward, I’m very excited to put some of that into practice!”

Zoe kicked off the Fellow’s presentations, highlighting background and quantitative data from their research. Here’s a brief look:

  • Participants were from the ages of 14-24, were recruited by the fellows, VNL, and through youth/young adult organizations. The survey featured open-ended questions about social connectedness, and was administered between Nov. and Dec. 2021. Participants were compensated with a $10 gift card upon survey completion.
  • 43 participants hailed from 3 States: South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and were 63% women, 20% men, and 17% non-binary/genderqueer/questioning/or had no response, and were of a multitude of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. 
  • 75% of participants were enrolled in school, mostly in college, 30% came from a two-parent home, 30% came from a one-parent household, and the remaining 40% came from various living situations. 
  • Areas that young people needed help with were segmented by age and race, with different ages and races reporting differences in their areas of need/support. See below.
Zoe's Presentation

Kyra Stoute – Atlanta, Georgia

On what inspired Kyra to take on the Social Connectedness Fellowship, Kyra said: “My mentor, Ashlie James from Atlanta GLOW inspired me to join the fellowship. I was really interested in it because I’ve always been interested in personal development and sharing information and resources with others I’ve come across in my life. Although I had never heard of the term social connectedness before, it felt like something I was already kind of immersed in, and learning that this research will benefit young people really aligns with my purpose.”

On taking lessons learned further into her life and career, Kyra said “First and foremost, it really taught me more mindfulness about showing up for, and supporting others in my life. I’m truly grateful for that. Career-wise, collaborating on this project with a very supportive team, and really intelligent and talented colleagues like Zoe, Martha, and our other Fellow, Yamilex, will definitely enable me in my goal of advocating for youth in the foster care system.”

Kyra’s presentation was on the qualitative findings from the Fellow’s interviews with young adults. Some highlights: 

  • Young adults emphasized emotional support and vulnerability when thinking about social supports.  See below.
  • Young adults perceived older adults as having more resources and connections, and they felt older adults were more confident in reaching into their own support networks.
  • Some young adults interviewed felt that older adults had more access to reliable information sources, as they have more funds and access to traditional news sources/subscriptions. Young adults felt that many of their peers got their information filtered through social media, increasing the likelihood of receiving false, or information of bad quality.
Kyra's Presentation

Martha Gonzalez – Atlanta, Georgia

Martha was referred to the Social Connectedness Fellowship also through Ashlie James at Atlanta GLOW. On the topic of inspiration, Martha said “I was inspired to join the Fellowship because it gave me an opportunity to learn new things. Mindfulness is definitely one of them, and learning how to analyze data. That was a big skill that I gained and that I enjoyed from the Fellowship. It also gave me an opportunity to improve the way I reach out to friends when it comes to sending them resources.” 

On what she learned and would take into her career, Martha said “I would say that one thing I learned, and will always apply going forward, is the concept of active virtual interactions instead of passive virtual interactions. They are so important. Since learning about this concept, I have used it and it has helped me grow socially, and helped me increase my network, both formally and informally.”

During her presentation, Martha presented on “What have we learned from all of it?”, as a recap and tie-together of the fellows overall findings. A look at Martha’s findings:

  • Young adults are more likely to reach out to informal support networks, such as family, friends, and significant others. Young adults, especially young men can also be skeptical of formal support, as they feel it isn’t genuine, or that it requires more engagement. Young men also tended to have less support sources overall. 
  • Young adults seek emotional and financial support from specific members of their network. For example, family members were called on to provide financial support, whereas friends were sought out for conflicts among significant others. See below.
  • Young people are likely to connect in person, and virtually. When interacting virtually, young people can interact passively or actively. Passively includes endless scrolling on social media, and can be detrimental to their mindset. Actively includes talking with others who are like minded on Discord, or on forums where there is an ongoing conversation that they are engaged in. 
Martha's Presentation

Visible Network Labs couldn’t be more proud of the Fellows and their work, and we have been honored to have them onboard with us. We thank the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Atlanta GLOW, and the Orlando Youth Alliance for their support, and of course, we send a big VNL thank you to Martha, Kyra, Zoe, Yamilex, and Kimberly Spring.

As we continue to build our social connectedness community, we will continue to elevate young people’s voices. We look forward to seeing this tremendous group of young women continue to make a difference in the lives of their peers and beyond. 

To find out more information about our upcoming and past webinars, please click HERE. More information on our PARTNERme tool can be found HERE.

Be sure to stay tuned to our Visible Us Blog for more product updates and VNL Team content!

About the Author: Will Jacobson

Will Jacobson is the Business Development Representative on VNL’s Marketing and Communications Team. Originally from New York City, Will loves living in Colorado and all the outdoor life it has to offer. He’s also a pretty big foodie!

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