Deborah Irby, more personally known as “Dee Dee,” has been a familiar face throughout the last few years at Community Behavioral Health and across the child-serving system. Dee Dee is the first Youth MOVE fellow and Youth Specialist for Philadelphia Alliance for Child Trauma Services (PACTS). Through the Philadelphia System of Care, Youth MOVE Philadelphia (YMP) launched a 9-month intensive youth fellowship program as a practical way for young adults with lived experience, such as Dee Dee, to utilize their leadership training and support systems change. YMP partnered with the PACTS team to fund the opportunity and provide coaching. As a result, PACTS and Dee Dee developed an individualized fellowship based on her strengths, experiences, and leadership skills.
Dee Dee is very passionate about breaking stigmas and raising awareness around the importance of the mental wellness of youth. She takes pride in empowering youth all over the country to speak their truth and to advocate using their lived experiences. Philadelphia System of Care Social Marketing Coordinator, Devon Downes, sat down with Dee Dee to ask her a few questions about her experience as a Youth MOVE Fellow and PACTS Youth Specialist.
How do YOU define “lived experience?”
Without hesitation, Dee Dee says “I define lived experience as an expertise you now possess from living through a situation and being resilient through it.” She believes it is very important for system partners to understand that youth aren’t just statistics, but partners in making systematic change to better help engage and collaborate with youth. Dee Dee explains how her lived experience has contributed greatly to her success as a Youth Specialist now. “It opened so many doors for me and gave me many seats at different cross-system tables. It helped me turn my lived experience in to lived expertise and helped me use my experience to better help better others.”
How did your journey as a youth advocate begin?
Starting in a coping skills group at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the facilitators noticed that Dee Dee enjoyed supporting her peers and referred her to PACTS Youth Advisory Board. Once a member of the group, Dee Dee would go on to steadily support the PACTS team and get involved with other young leaders and advocates in Youth MOVE Philadelphia (YMP). In her current experience as a Youth Specialist, Dee Dee has taken the lead to redevelop and coordinate the PACTS Youth Advisory Board. Her role as Youth Specialist also includes developing innovative communications strategies, reviewing policies, and participating in cross-system and community meetings. PACTS is so proud and pleased to have Dee Dee on the team. They have extended her fellowship into a new scope of work that includes supporting the roll out of Intensive Behavioral Health Services (IBHS) in the home, school, and community. PACTS program manager Sara Fernandez-Marcote shares that “Dee Dee is at the heart of PACTS. She steadily reorients us to what is important, to the experience of children and youth in Philadelphia. Dee Dee challenges our processes in a way that makes us a better team and we feel very fortunate to be able have her as a colleague”
Why is youth advocacy so important?
Dee Dee believes that youth advocacy is very important because it gives youth a voice in models/frameworks, treatment, policies and best practices that best fits the individual youth. “It helps empower their own awareness on how providers operate. For instance with PACTS, I’ve used the ‘Listen to Me’ document, which are guidelines for clinicians working with trauma impacted youth, that was made by youth with lived experience,” Dee Dee talks about lived experience impacting the work for PACTS.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
The biggest challenge Dee Dee has come across in her journey has been owning and understanding that she isn’t just a youth representative at the table but she is a valued team member and co-worker to those she’s working with. While she sits at the table with a lot of important child-serving leaders, Dee Dee believes that being the voice for the youth is very valuable and needed to see transformational growth in their engagement with youth. She believes that people shouldn’t just think of youth as a success story, but as a chance to use their experience to assist in their organization, department or system to grow and change.
Dee Dee admits that she doesn’t have it all figured out, but she has big goals on the horizon. In the next few years Dee Dee wants to sustain a position with DBHIDS, obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work, and become a social worker for CHOP in 5 years. In 10 years, she would like to have her Master’s degree and open a nonprofit for private practice, utilizing peer mentorship and youth leadership as a way to help youth engaged in therapy.
What would you say to your younger self and young people with lived experience?
“Continue channeling your trauma into power. Also never belittle your voice just because you don’t look like others in the room, you were asked to be there just as the others, so you’re just as important and knowledgeable.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
“I’m passionate about being a transformational leader for my community” says Dee Dee, “but most of my interests include writing poetry, reading books, doodling and trying new foods.”
Thank you, Dee Dee, for sharing your experience with us and all that you do!