KIMBERLY — Several years ago, there was a rash of teenage suicides in the Fox Valley. After attending a forum on the topic in Madison, Adalia Jansen was inspired to do something about it. “I came home thinking, ‘What are we doing to prevent this?’ In my vision, I thought that I could do something that people were not doing.”
Jansen, who was born and raised in Peru, first came to the United States in 1980 as part of a three-week foreign exchange student program. She attended Stockbridge High School while she was here, went to college for a year in Peru, and then returned to Wisconsin to finish her schooling.
“The lady that was doing the (foreign exchange) program that I came through, United Cultural Exchange, retired,” said Jansen. “She asked me to take it over and be the representative here in the United States. I’ve been doing this for the last 18 years.”
Interacting with exchange students gave Jansen the inspiration to create a nonprofit organization to help reduce teenage suicides in this area. “The exchange students who come here to America, they gain a tremendous experience,” she said. “They learn the culture, they learn the language, they learn how to be independent, they learn how to appreciate their own home, how to appreciate what people do (for them) here in America. When they go back to their country, they’re totally different people. They become leaders. They are respected and their self-esteem skyrockets. Their attitudes change. I wanted to do that with American kids.”
In November 2017, Jansen, who is a professional mental health counselor at REACH Counseling in Neenah, started Youth Quality Life, Inc. The mission of Youth Quality Life is to enhance the lives of youth, ages 12 to 18, and their families by providing educational programs and opening international horizons to children while focusing on mental wellness and suicide prevention.
Students who are struggling with personal or school issues, dealing with low self-esteem, or who are at risk for harming themselves, are referred to the program by their teachers. Once they are accepted into the Youth Quality Life program, they attend group sessions with their parents or caregivers. “We will then refer them to counseling because they have to be emotionally a good fit,” said Jansen.
After the students have completed those steps, they are eligible to take part in a three-week exchange program in Peru over the summer.
“The Catholic university where I went to school, they have a very strong program in psychology,” said Jansen. “They offered to welcome the students and give them three weeks of free Spanish immersion (which includes one week of travel around the country) and they find the host families. The kids will live with families in Arequipa, Peru, the city where I am from, so I know the people there.”
Youth Quality Life covers the cost of travel for the students. Up to 10 students will travel abroad each summer. The first group is going to Peru the summer of 2019. After the students return to the United States, they are required to attend a local technical college to start a program that will lead to a career.
Six students are already ambassadors for Youth Quality Life. Four of them, two from China and two from Peru, were exchange students whom Jansen and her husband Todd hosted. Two other students are from northeast Wisconsin. “They are very good students, they have wonderful grades, they have a lot of support from their parents, and they have a career path,” she said.
Jansen said her faith motivates her involvement in the student exchange program. “I feel that it’s a service to God and now more than ever we need to move this world by love. That’s what we need,” she said. “We need to provide love and unity. Those kids are crying for love and attention and only the Lord can provide us that understanding and that love and that compassion.”
Jansen would like other communities to start similar programs. It takes a lot of work, she said, but it is worth it.
“If I can change one kid, if I can save one life, I will be happy,” she said. “Youth Quality Life is excellent because this is really going to open their horizons — they’re going to come home and they’re going to say, ‘Hey, the world is not only my high school and my hometown. If I can go to Peru and do this, go to China, get a degree, speak another language, I can forget about my problems,’” said Jansen.