Challenge and Opportunity

The percentage of U.S. high school students who experienced persistent feelings of sadness/hopelessness increased from 26% in 2009 to 42% in 2021, even while access to clinical care rose over the same time period (CDC 2022; Lipson et al. 2019). While clinical care is important, there is a need for a paradigm shift toward more youth-driven and -responsive approaches. This need is particularly clear for marginalized young people, such as BIPOC youth, LGBTQ+ youth, and youth growing up in adverse environments. 

A range of non-clinical community-based organizations have created responsive, trusted spaces for marginalized young people to access resources and services, explore their identities, and find belonging. Many of these organizations are eager to support the mental health and well-being of the young people they engage with; however, they are often disconnected from relevant evidence-based tools and the skills and support to implement them. There is significant untapped potential for these organizations to create new mental health access points for young people. 

The Gathering Space Model 

The citiesRISE Gathering Space model strengthens the capacities of non-clinical community-based organizations to integrate evidence-based youth mental health promotion and prevention work. The model works to leverage the existing trust that organizations have established with marginalized youth, and enhances their work with a focus on:

Appreciating and finding meaning in the past and present.

Connecting and caring for oneself and others in the present moment.

Cultivating a positive outlook toward the future; embodies agency and willpower.

The Gratitude, Kindness, and Hopefulness (GKH) intervention is a temporal concept aimed at empowering young people and communities to instill these core values at the inner, societal, and environmental levels. Cultivating these strengths together enables young people to navigate past (with gratitude), present (with kindness), and future (with hopefulness) life challenges. There are many studies indicating that these strengths are protective against anxiety, depression, and other negative outcomes. Evidence-based gratitude, kindness, and hopefulness tools can be easily adapted and delivered through a range of youth-friendly methods, such as creative arts and sports.

We offer the following services to organizations adopting the Gathering Space model:  

Contextual adaptation
Partnering with organizations to culturally and contextually adapt the evidence-based gratitude, kindness, and hopefulness tools.

Team capacity development
Building the capacities of staff and peer navigators to support crisis response and continually work to improve how organizational policies and practices support belonging and well-being.

Learning community
Connecting organizations implementing the Gathering Space model to learn, exchange best practices, and receive ongoing mentoring. 

The Gathering Space model was pioneered by collaborating young people and mental health experts in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, and has now been adapted for young people living in the U.S. and in India.

Case Studies

We partnered with two organizations in Seattle on the initial adaptation of the Gathering Space model from Nairobi to the U.S. context. The organizations engaged with citiesRISE’s local and global team members to explore how to adapt practices of Gratitude, Kindness, and Hope into their current program offerings, taking an approach of co-design with youth leaders and adult staff. . 

Khmer Community of Seattle/ King County

The Khmer Community of Seattle King County (KCSKC) is a community organization that provides direct services to the local Khmer community of Seattle and South King County, Wa. Through community outreach and programming, they are working to provide more access and better opportunities for Khmer and Khmer Americans to build cultural connections and experiences together.  They approach their work with an emphasis on empowering the Khmer community by bridging the intergenerational gap between elders and youth, preserving culture and promoting well-being. The KCSKC team adapted and integrated the practices of G/K/H into their Khmer Amarak program activities, which focus on teaching and preserving Khmer culture through traditional art and dance. The team, consisting of young leaders and adult staff, co-create approaches for enhancing program offerings by pausing and practicing G/K/H individually and communally, using art, dance, and storytelling as entry points for these impactful practices.  As a result, they have surfaced valuable learnings about the considerations of adapting practices of G/K/H into a communities cultural context, and using various approaches for practicing, including art, dance, storytelling, and intergenerational engagements. 

Lambert House

Lambert House is a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth ages 10-22 in the Greater Seattle area. Their calendar is packed with fun activities, support groups, planning meetings, dances, and other events for LGBTQIA+ youth to connect with each other and caring adults. Lambert House is where LGBTQ youth make life better for each other. Lambert House has integrated the practices of Gratitude, Kindness, and Hope into their Art Group, a weekly activity that invites Lambert House youth to express themselves using art. Along with program staff, youth participants explored the definition of G/K/H and expressed what these practices meant to them through creating visual representations of the concepts in their lives.  Lambert House team has developed key learnings for how to co-define G/K/H with youth to ensure there are safe and accessible working definitions of the practices, and how to embody them through creative activities.


We envision national and global movements of non-clinical community-based organizations creating new mental health access points for marginalized young people. We are exploring three main approaches to scale the Gathering Space model.

Targeted expansion
Partnering with key organizations that support a specific group of young people (e.g., LGBTQ+ youth).

City-based expansion
Creating new cohorts in cities that can sustain themselves and grow.

Adapting the Gathering Space model for virtual and online spaces.