Teen Esteem: Empowering Students for Life

What if kids learned at an early age about their immeasurable worth and that knowledge empowered them to unlock their unlimited potential?

Photo of Nicku Bruce
28 20

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Teen Esteem was founded in 1994 by Linda Turnbull - a volunteer counselor at a local crisis pregnancy center - who saw firsthand the devastating effects of young peoples' choices that could prevent them from realizing their dreams. After volunteering for two and a half years at the Valley Pregnancy Center, a clinic where she counseled pregnant teens, Linda encountered so many heartbreaking cases that she made a decision. Providing support for struggling teens AFTER the consequences of their decisions was inadequate. That day Linda made a commitment to empower teens to make healthy decisions, a commitment she has honored for over twenty years. Teen Esteem presentations touch the lives of students at critical points of development, starting in grade school, with crucial information about the importance of making healthy choices out respect for self and others. To date, over 150,000 children have been impacted by a Teen Esteem presentation!

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)
  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)
  • Hispanic, Latinx, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian)
  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)



Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

San Francisco Bay Area

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The pressures our kids face today are unprecedented. Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death for kids ages 11-18. Great kids are choosing to go down a path of high risk behaviors. Performance based pressures are deceiving many kids into thinking their value is based solely on achievements. Social media influence and cyberbullying are having devastating effects. The need to educate, equip and empower our young people is urgent. Statistics from our own 2015-16 school year student research show that nearly 70% of students who completed our survey struggle sometimes or often with academic stress. 71% of students are moderately to extremely stressed, and tell us academics and college/the future are the two primary causes of it, followed by parents and extracurricular activities. 11% of students we surveyed struggle with suicide sometimes or often.

NOW MORE THAN EVER, Students need to hear that they have immeasurable value and possess the ability to make healthy choices out of respect for SELF and others.

Our solution is Teen Esteem. We are a non-profit organization serving students, parents, educators and the community via public and private school classroom presentations, school assemblies, parent education events & online resources and community workshops.

Our goal is to empower and educate kids and parents on the challenges young people face. We tackle the tough issues with students starting in elementary school with a powerful, relevant message designed to equip students to make healthy choices amidst immense, daily pressures.

We address the root of the problem, and focus on the issues that cause young people to turn to high risk behavior.  One key factor in that is respect.

We have an accurate pulse on today's youth.

Our core message is that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, is unique and has value.

We educate and empower students to make informed, healthy choices and encourage them to embrace their unique gifts, talents and one-of-a-kind life path. We teach them that success in life is highly individualized and takes on many forms. We embolden behaviors and attitudes of resilience and persistence in young people.

Our ever-evolving curriculum leverages up-to-date facts, real-life stories and practical tools to address many challenges that are threatening the well-being of young people including:

academic pressure · social media · bullying · wise use of technology · relationships · sex · drugs · alcohol · prescription drug abuse.

Our parent education offering is another critical component in prevention, helping parents understand the world their children live in and how to best support their kids in and out of the home.  Our parent education events help to reinforce the Teen Esteem message in the home long after our assembly is over.

Our experience has revealed the need for a greater number of touch points with kids and parents beginning at at earlier age.  In response to these findings, in 2015-16 we piloted two age-appropriate assemblies targeting Grade School and Middle School students.  We believe our Grade and Middle School assembly program is highly innovative. Through relationships with our education partners, parents in the community and community organizations we identified that students as young as grade school are experiencing the detrimental effects of social media and bullying. Historically, our programs have been targeted to High Schools, but upon recognizing that students are facing serious challenges at much younger ages we responded by creating and piloting our age-appropriate assembly curriculum last school year and look forward to expanding our reach into more grade schools and middle schools in 2016-17. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

The roar of the rowdy gym full of middle-schoolers fell silent as they watched the final seconds of a video about a girl told by peers online to “go kill herself”…just because she was a little bit different. Our speaker paused before launching into his message about using social media wisely and being respectful of others. You could hear a pin drop as the words sank in. The kids not only heard, but listened, about how they could choose to contribute to the problem of bullying, or do something about it by using social media to build others up versus tear one another down. “Last year there were many times I felt worthless and useless. I even contemplated suicide. The assembly made me realize there's a reason worth living for.” ~ Student

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We monitor the impact of our presentations by post-presentation student surveys. Last school year, 90% of students who took our survey agreed we provided them with tools that will MAKE A DIFFERENCE in their life! Over 80% of students agreed the presentation empowered them to make good decisions that affect their future. We expect to impact more students, at an earlier age, with our new grade school and middle school assemblies. Equipping kids even sooner so that they can make great choices! Student quotes: “Thank you for coming to our class and giving us information I will remember for the rest of my life. What you said really made me think; especially when you mentioned that you can always restart and move your boundary line. Keep doing what you are doing!” “The assembly was a big "light bulb" moment for me, I felt empowered to make life changes for the better.”

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Last year we impacted 11K+ students. We have a small staff and all of our highly trained speakers are volunteers. Schools do not pay for classroom presentations and we ask for only a small fee for our assemblies. We rely on funds from donors, fundraising events and grants (Quest Foundation, Safeway, Arbonne and more). Achieving greater visibility with more foundations is a key goal of the organization to help us fund our vision!

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

For over 20 years, Teen Esteem has engaged students, parents, school administrators, law enforcement, counselors, physicians and a range of community members. Through these ongoing interactions Teen Esteem keeps a current pulse on the challenges students are facing. Our speaker staff engages students on their level in our interactive and dynamic presentations. Students overwhelmingly comment on how our speakers understand their world and speak to them in a way that is relevant, engaging, and validating. No one in our area is presenting as comprehensive and up-to-date material to students.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Awareness of the Issues+ Prevention Education! It is critical that everyone – students, parents, educators and the community – understand the current, ever-changing threats to our students’ well-being including academic pressure, social media, bullying, technology, relationships, sexual assault and substance abuse. Greater awareness of the challenges students' face coupled with prevention education, like TE, equips kids to make healthy choices and have confidence in their decision-making abilities. Emphasizing respect for self and others allows them to live a life of unlimited potential!

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Email

Program Design Clarity

A) Students in 4th - 12th grade B) Classroom presentations, school assemblies and parent ed events C) We present on average to 4 schools a month, or roughly 10,000+ students a year plus 2,000+ parents! D) Services (presentations) are delivered by highly trained, professional youth speakers E) Teen Esteem operates with a small administrative staff. We work hard to ensure our expenses on staff/admin are low and the money we raise from donors and grants goes to funding the development of our curriculum (staying up to date) and delivering the message to the students who need to hear it!

Community Leadership

We are well connected to educators, administrators, health professionals, youth workers and law enforcement in our area to keep a current pulse on relevant challenges facing today’s children and their parents. Several of these individuals are on our board. Community news involving students are the heartbeat of our curriculum and examples shared with students about how one choice can radically alter your life and the lives of those around them.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 12+

Spread Strategies

1. Grow our assembly program through the recruitment and training of additional professional youth speakers to allow us to expand our reach into the Greater Bay Area and beyond. 2. Developing a student social media platform and short videos to help our message reach more kids (Bay Area and BEYOND!) who need us. We are working right now on raising funds for these two initiatives (which go hand in hand) through grant funding.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Our organization helps kids filter through the messages they are receiving from the world, media and culture and adopt healthy behaviors in response to the challenges they’re facing as they grow up. Our programs help kids learn, grow and create positive habits in the face of immense and unprecedented pressures and temptations, many of which have life-altering or life-ending consequences if not handled appropriately.

Leadership Story

After volunteering for two and a half years at the Valley Pregnancy Center, a Dublin clinic where she counseled pregnant teens, Linda Turnbull encountered so many heartbreaking cases that she made a decision. Providing support for struggling teens AFTER after the consequences of their decisions was inadequate. That day Linda made a commitment to empower teens to make healthy decisions, a commitment she has honored for twenty years. Teen Esteem was founded by Linda out of a concern that many of our youth were succumbing to the lure of risky behavior.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

2015 Award of Merit - in recognition of dedicated service to the Town of Danville 2014 Soroptimist Ruby Award – Soroptimist International Northern California 2014 Certificate of Congressional Recognition 2006 Ernie Kern Community Service Award 2006 Woman of Distinction – Soroptimist Internation

Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 100%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 0%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 0%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 80%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 20%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 40%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 40%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 20%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 0%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 80%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 20%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 66.7%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 66.7%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%


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It is really needed moral supports and awareness about life for students because as much as earlier they come to know their responsibilities, rights, empowerment etc. so they can go smoothly in their life with positivity. It was really worth to read that how to Empowering Students for Life.


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Have you noticed that the largest amount of problems children face when they enter their teenage phase? The natural child's desire to listen to and follow their adult comes into conflict with the growing necessity to make their own choices, that's why they are so delicate and sensitive. And that's the turning point according to http://ratedbystudents.com/services determining whether a society will receive a healthy new member to contribute the reviews of research paper writing service and bring benefit, or a criminal and a burden. It's a pain to see how parents fail in guiding their infant and with you those children get a second chance.

Photo of Melody Bertolucci

Thank you so much for your comments. Yes, the teenage years can be difficult as young adults seek their path in life, with so many choices that can have lasting effects. Striving for independence yet still needing support from a reliable adult. It's not easy to raise children and there are always new challenges to overcome, especially in a fast-paced, technology-driven society. To help facilitate parent-child relationships and communication, we offer a growing online library of short educational videos on our website (https://teenesteem.org/educational-videos/). Our videos are a wonderful resource to parents who are struggling or who are just looking to enrich their relationship with their kids. I invite you to take a look!

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Photo of Melody Bertolucci

Thank you so much for your kind words! The overarching goal of Teen Esteem programs is to reach as many students and parents as we possibly can over the course of a child’s school years with our message that each individual is valuable, unique, worthy of life, to be respected and loved. Technology dependence, social media influences and fierce academic pressures are taking a toll on the mental and physical health of today’s young people. We strive to combat those negative influences and pressures which are affecting an increasingly younger audience. Youth are our future and we want this future generation to grow up as mentally, physically and emotionally healthy as they possibly can.

Photo of Jonathan Cohen

I deeply appreciate this group’s focus on supporting respectful relationships. And, it certainly sounds as if the group of ‘touching children’s hearts.’ I wish there was a way for the group to “build bridges” with other overlapping efforts. As great as any assembly can be, it will necessarily have a limited long-term impact if it is not reinforced and sustained.

Photo of Nicku Bruce

Thanks for the comment Jonathan!  Our additional and integral efforts include a robust Parent Education program of parent presentations and a vast library of online resources.  We believe that by educating and empowering students AND parents, we make a way for reinforcement of our message in the home.  Parent Ed and parental reinforcement are critical components of the sustainability and impact of our vital message to students!  Check out our website to see the materials and get more information about our Parent Ed programs.

Photo of Jonathan Cohen

Thanks Nicku,
I did not know about our organization.. Just checked you out on the web... we are clearly learning and working in overlapping ways!
with very best wishes

Photo of Andre Wicks

I'd like to connect and ask a few more questions. Contact me at andrew@spokaneschools.org. Thank you!


Photo of Nicku Bruce

Hi Andre!  I sent you an email last week in response.  Let's connect!

Photo of Andre Wicks

Nicku, apologies for not responding sooner!  I must have mishandled your email.  I'm interested to know more about Teen Esteem and the possibility of our district using some of the programming.  Let me know if there's time later this week we can connect by phone.  Thank you! 


Andre Wicks 

Photo of Lee Erickson

I love the content of your presentations! I am the coordinator for a regional SADD program that covers the Dakotas and Minnesota. Would you ever venture out that far away? I would like more information, please. lee@nlsadd.com

Photo of Nicku Bruce

Thank you Lee!  I've given your contact information to one of our Directors who will be in touch with you!

Photo of Jennell Riddick

Nicku, I love the name of the project and the work that you all are doing. I too have discovered that developing a strong sense of self is essential for our youth. Research shows that a healthy self-esteem directly impacts academic, social, and emotional health. Thanks for your work.

Photo of Nicku Bruce

Thank you Jennell!  According the CDC, academic success is an excellent indicator for the overall well-being of students and a primary predictor and determinant of adult health outcomes. Leading national education organizations recognize the close relationship between health (mental and emotional) and education, as well as the need to foster health and well-being within the educational environment for all students. Teen Esteem exists to be part of the solution, equipping students to make healthier choices.