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James Plastiras Director of Public Information New York State Office of Mental Health 518-474-6540 james.plastiras@omh.ny.gov

May 16, 2023

New York State Recognizes Rochester Youth for Inspirational Advocacy Efforts

Isaiah Santiago Honored for Using his Lived Experience to Help Other Youth in his Community

Albany, NY – New York State is honoring Isaiah Santiago, a Rochester-based Youth Peer Advocate, with the 2023 ‘What’s Great in our State’ Youth/Young Adult Award.  
This award recognizes young people with lived mental health experience who have utilized their own experiences to make a positive impact in their community. 

Isaiah Santiago has advocated for youth in Rochester by fighting against youth gun violence and the stigma against mental health. At age 16 he started a free after-school program to help at-risk youth create and record music. He uses music, art and community partners to advocate for change in his community and his school. 
Isaiah Santiago shows us ‘What’s Great in our State’ by working with Senators, Council Members and County Legislators to include youth voice in the creation of legislation and policies,” said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan. “Isaiah has used his advocacy efforts to make a real impact on the lives of other youth in his community and we thank him for all the ways he is working to create positive change in the Rochester area.”  
Isaiah was presented with the award at the annual ‘What’s Great in our State 2023’ event on May 9. The celebration recognizes the individuals and programs that are successfully advancing the cause of children’s mental health in New York State.  
“I am extremely honored to be recognized for my efforts to make effective change in our state,” said Isaiah Santiago. “Since age 16, I’ve advocated for better mental health services and more young voices at the table of change. This has led me to create the mental health literacy curriculum, start an anti-violence organization, publicly speak around our state to people of power and most recently being the youngest person to run for the Rochester City School Board. The work that I’ve achieved has been a responsibility I hold with great pride, a pride that’s able to uplift youth leadership, mental health awareness, and a call for effective change in our state. Thank you for the award and honor.” 
‘What’s Great in Our State’ 
The ‘What’s Great in Our State’ event was first launched in 2010 and is typically held during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a national movement that raises awareness about the importance of children’s mental health. The event features a reading of Governor Kathy Hochul’s announcement proclaiming the week as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, a ceremony recognizing our honorees, and an art show featuring artwork created by children receiving services from New York State’s mental health system. 
The What’s Great in Our State Conference was especially significant this year, in light of Governor Hochul’s historic, multi-year $1-billion commitment to overhaul and strengthen the state’s continuum of mental health care.
The event is sponsored by six New York State agencies and several children’s mental health advocacy organizations: The Office of Mental Health, the Council on Children and Families, the Department of Health, the State Education Department, the Office of Children and Family Services and the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, Early Care & Learning Council, Families Together in New York State, Inc., Mental Health Association in New York State, Inc., National Alliance on Mental Illness - New York State, New York State Network for Youth Success, Prevent Child Abuse New York, Research Foundation for Mental Hygiene, Inc., and the Suicide Prevention Center of New York. 
In the attached photo: Isaiah Santiago (center) accepting the Certificate of Recognition from New York State Office of Mental Health Executive Deputy Commissioner Moira W. Tashjian, MPA (left); and Sarah Kuriakose, PhD, BCBA-D, Associate Commissioner, Division of Integrated Community Services for Children and Families.

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