Shands teen-mentoring program co-founders listed among international nominees for today’s Nobel Peace Prize

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (Oct. 8, 2010)—The co-founders of a high school student mentoring program that began 11 years ago in Gainesville were among the 262 official designated nominees for the 2010 Nobel Peace Price, which was awarded today to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The Partners in Adolescent Life Support program, known as PALS, is a fixture in all Gainesville high schools, Fort Clarke Middle School and the A-Quinn Jones Center. In 1999, in response to the bullying that led to the Columbine High School shootings, sisters Jessica and Shannon Marrero, 15 and 13 years old at the time, began their mission. They worked with mental-health professionals at Shands Vista, a behavioral-health hospital that offers inpatient and outpatient adolescent psychiatric care, the University of Florida departments of psychology and psychiatry and the Alachua County school superintendent.

PALS program director Susan Garcia, a licensed clinical social worker at Shands Vista, said her team was shocked to hear they were an official Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

“To have our work recognized is phenomenal, but we are thrilled to have the opportunity to raise awareness about the need for mental-health services for middle and high school students,” Garcia said. “There are many at-risk kids who need this kind of support to have successful and fulfilling lives as we’ve seen in the news recently. At times, our program can be the difference between life and death.”

PALS trains peer-mentor teams in the schools to provide support and to promote altruistic, tolerant and nonviolent atmospheres. Graduate students from various mental health training programs provide therapy, counseling classes and crisis intervention.

The sisters now attend Brown University Medical School, where Shannon is a first-year student and Jessica is completing her last year.

The Blue Foundation for a Healthy Florida, the philanthropic affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, first nominated the sisters for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2007, the Blue Foundation awarded PALS a $100,000 Sapphire Award.

The Blue Foundation’s nomination was followed up by supporting nominations from U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the Florida Office of Drug Control Director Bruce Grant, as well as local school principals, the presidents of Santa Fe College and Brown University, and social scientists at UF, with which Shands HealthCare is affiliated.

Others in support of this nomination included Carol Bosshardt, president of Bosshardt Realty Services and a supporter of PALS throughout the years. She and Bosshardt Realty Services have provided funding for PALS through the annual Bosshardt Realty Services Golf Tournament and other special events.

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