Excellus BlueCross BlueShield recently awarded Young Scholars LPP of Utica University a Health Equity Award of $30,000 to support Young Scholars Mental Health Equity Programming. Young Scholars LLP provides year-round academic support, counseling, and social and cultural enrichment to students from diverse backgrounds and communities of color in grades seven through twelve. These students and their families are among the populations that face overall health disparities, particularly in the mental health area. This program provides mental health support from a licensed social worker for students and their families.


“The Young Scholars LLP social workers are the first and most trusted mental health professionals available to our students and their parents,” explains Pamela Matt, Executive Director of Young Scholars LPP. “Stigma, cultural restrictions and other barriers often prevent students and parents from seeking mental health support. Providing immediate and free access to mental health professionals for each student upon entering the Young Scholars program helps to remove these barriers.”


The Young Scholars LPP (YSLPP) is a collaborative effort between the Utica City School District and Utica University serving approximately 360 students from diverse backgrounds in grades seven through twelve. Students nominated for the Young Scholars Program are identified as having strong academic potential, but facing equally strong socioeconomic or other challenges that could keep them from realizing that potential.


The mission of the YSLPP is to provide the necessary support for these students to stay in school, earn a New York State Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation, graduate college and be career ready.


“The goal of the Mental Health Equity Programming is to improve student outcomes by reducing anxiety, developing and practicing coping skills, and maintaining a connection to YSLPP social workers and other professionals,” Matt explains. “Our social workers are in YSLPP classrooms everyday having casual conversations with our students, so when students are facing a challenge or need mental health support, it is not scary or stigmatized.”


In the fall of 2021, Excellus BCBS introduced a new Health Equity Award funding opportunity and invited organizations throughout its service area to apply. These awards help fund programs to improve health equity in communities of color. These segments of our community continue to suffer from health care and social disadvantages due to racism and discrimination. Award categories included, but were not limited to, improving the community’s physical health and mental health, reducing social disparities in health care, and ensuring access to health care services.


“We are proud to further our commitment to health equity by supporting programs such as Young Scholars LPP Mental Health Equity Programming,” said Eve Van de Wal, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Utica regional president. “By removing critical barriers to mental health support, they are improving the health and quality of life for future generations in our communities. Our funding of this local initiative helps support our mission of helping our members live healthier more secure lives by improving access to care, advancing specific health outcomes and improving health equity.”



Representatives from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield present Health Equity Award to Young Scholars LPP of Utica University. Pictured left to right: Shayna Keller, Excellus BCBS Community Investments and Partnerships Manager; Alyssa Freeman, Young Scholars LPP Social Work high school; Pamela G. Matt, Young Scholars LPP Executive Director; Eve Van de Wal, Excellus BCBS Utica Regional President; Zanya Ramos Rivera, Young Scholars LPP Social Worker middle school/family engagement; Mary Hayes Gordon, Young Scholars LPP Director of Program Operations. Not pictured: Vanessa Daniels, Young Scholars LPP Social Worker middle school.

For the latest information on the health plan’s community investments and partnerships, visit https://news.excellusbcbs.com/news-room/community-investments-partnerships.

If you’re not on our mailing list or receiving Member Mentions, please click here to sign up.