OYM Sean Perry | We R H.O.P.E.


We R H.O.P.E. offers to help the youth who are struggling with mental health and anxiety. A lot of these kids lack support for their emotional and social well-being. They need a coach that can connect with them and help them through their anxiety. Sean Perry is the founder and President of We R H.O.P.E., and his goal is to break the stigma of mental illness at the school and community levels.

Join Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D as he talks to Sean Perry about how We R H.O.P.E. is helping make a difference around the world. Discover how there is a notable decrease in anxiety when the youth work with their coaches. Learn how to make space for yourself and breathe. Also, find out more about their partnership with the Mindful African Initiative and Sean’s plans for the future.

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Sean Perry On Helping The Youth Deal With Anxiety With We R H.O.P.E.

Sean Perry has two decades of coaching experience and working with youth. He ran two residential treatment centers for mental health and observed firsthand that mental health care was supporting “the haves” rather than the “have nots” more than anyone would like to admit. The lack of equality in mental health support services pushed Sean to create We R H.O.P.E. Inc. We R H.O.P.E. hopes to create change in mental health by bringing mental health support at a much younger age and breaking the stigma of mental illness at the school and community level.

Sean, thank you so much for joining us. It’s great to see you again.

Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

Can you let us know about what’s happening with your group, your projects, and the schools that you work for?

Since the last time we spoke, we had eleven schools at that time. In the middle of the school year, we’ve opened up in five different schools, which is extremely exciting. We’ve hired a bunch of new people, and it’s always good to create new jobs. Not only are we in Vermont and New Hampshire, but we opened up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. We’ve got Pine Bluff High School, and we’re working on getting the middle schools and elementary schools within the district as well and looking to continue to grow down here.

We’re gearing up for what’s called The Upper Valley Youth Wellness Retreat. It’s a 3-week, 4-day-a-week summer retreat for kids. We have the very first youth mental health gala in the state of Vermont. We’re super excited about that. We’ve got a youth mental health motorcycle ride coming up and have partnered with Mindful African Initiative in Nairobi, Kenya. I’ll be flying out to see our partners there and start work in Kenya.

What’s the gala going to be like in Vermont?

The gala is an opportunity for people to come together and get dressed up. People haven’t done it in a long time. We’ve got a lot of great sponsors to collaborate with and talk about the challenges that we, as mental health professionals, parents, and educators, see and hear about the amazing work that We R H.O.P.E. is doing.

It’s an opportunity for us to raise a little bit of resources. Mostly, it’s not so much about raising the capital as it is about people getting an opportunity to know that we exist if that makes sense. We’re a small organization. Although we’ve done the CNN Spy and We’re Champions for Change, people still in this state have no idea that we’re even here.

We’ve been promoting it. I told Adam, our Director of Development, “This is crazy. We sold almost 100 tickets,” which was the goal. We’ve got some online as well. There are people that are going to be joining us via Zoom. I said, “Half of these names up here, I don’t even know who they are. That’s amazing.”

That people are coming out, and they want to know who We R H.O.P.E. is. That’s the exciting piece. We’ve got several speakers, a couple affiliated specifically with We R H.O.P.E., our director and affiliate clinical director. We’ve got Former Chief Justice John Broderick of New Hampshire, who’s going to be speaking and telling his personal story a little bit about it. I’m going to be going through all the great work that We R H.O.P.E. has been doing over the last several years in our growth.

Prior to starting the interview, we were talking about some of the results you’re getting. Can you review that for us? You’re talking about measuring anxiety and decreases in anxiety. Since you’re getting near the end of the school year, you got some results.

Consistency and support from a coach are what work against anxiety. People need that connection.

We’ve partnered with a company called mdlogix or Behavioral Health Works, BHWorks. The way that we track our data, we’re in the middle of an IRB, and our manuscript is being written by someone affiliated with Dartmouth. We’ve been collecting data to prove our evidence and that what we do works. We came up with the idea of what is a common measuring tool that the clinical world knows and respects. That’s a Generalized Anxiety Disorder Survey. It shoots out a number or lets you know where a student is and their anxiety. We took that and said, “We can use that as a data tracking tool.”

Why not? We do an intake and do it every 30 days. Every 30 days, it spits out a number. We can, in real-time, start to see a decrease in anxiety by working with our coach five days a week. We do the behavioral health screen at the beginning of services and at the end of service, so intake and exit. We do that at the intake and the exit because that screener screens for suicidality, depression, physical or sexual abuse.

We know that there are going to be some things that we can never change because some of those things are happening at home. We screen for so many other things within there. What we realized was that if we did that at the beginning and at the end, we could see what work we had done and if there were any significant changes in that behavioral health screen, so we do that as well.

We pulled some data for our gala to show to everybody. Out of 260 students that we’ve pulled the data from thus far, we saw a 73% decrease in anxiety from the intake to the exit. That is huge. What was interesting about this, Tim is when we sent the data to our people that are writing up the manuscript, they looked at it and said, “This is inconclusive because they didn’t realize that we’re seeing kids five days a week.”

What they were looking at was, after roughly after 90 days, you’re saying that there’s a decrease. We’ve got no real evidence to say that there’s a decrease because it’s such a short period of time. I had to go back and explain to them. We see those kiddos roughly 75 times in 90 days. It’s not inconclusive. This is solid data that’s showing it.

What they’re looking at is like the standard therapeutic setting of, “You’re going to see a kiddo once a week,” and it’s like, “No, we’ve seen that child more in 90 days than they would ever see a therapist in an entire twelve-month timeframe.” They’ve got to change the way in which they’re viewing our data. It’s some amazing results in the work that we do. We already knew that, but to be able to have concrete and people will see it, it’s awesome.

I was talking to several people about reading Burke Harris’s book, The Deepest Well. Are you familiar with that?

I’ve heard of it. I’ve not read it yet.

She’s a medical doctor who’s gone into some impoverished areas around San Francisco and trying to help the community. She found that the ACE’s study, the Adverse Childhood Events study that came out in the late ’90s, is platinum. She screens now in her practice and with her clinic everybody that comes in. She found a way to do it in such a way that people don’t have to report what their adverse events in childhood were or what the adverse events in their children’s lives are, but they get a score.

The correlation between a score of two or more adverse childhood events and future mental, emotional, but primarily physical problems is undeniable. When you use that information to inform your treatment, you realize these young adults and adults with dysregulated central nervous systems, you can start using mindfulness and some other approaches. It accounts for a lot of that rise in anxiety and difficulty handling everyday stressors because they’re already up at this fevered pitch. This five-day-a-week contact with a coach is the kind of stability that helps somebody internalize the resources for dealing with life better.

Consistency and support are what work. It’s always going to work. For instance, perfect example, if I wanted to become a bodybuilder and said, “I’m going to dedicate one day a week to becoming a bodybuilder. How long do you think that’s going to take me?” If I say, “I’m going to become a bodybuilder, and this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to live and breathe it. It’s going to be part of my every day. At some point, I’m going to give to that.” You’re going to see rapid success. We’re saying to the students that if you give yourself the support that is needed, you’re going to see rapid success.

OYM Sean Perry | We R H.O.P.E.

We R H.O.P.E.: The generalized anxiety disorder survey is a measuring tool for tracking a student’s anxiety. They found that there is a decrease in anxiety when they’re working with their coaches.


You’re going to be able to gain these skills more efficiently. I’ve seen her TED Talk about ACEs and the amazing work that she’s doing there. After watching her, we were going to start using ACEs in our work. There were some questions up there that we were a little concerned about. We decided to go with a behavior health screener because we can get some more data from that screener as a whole. What’s interesting about what you said is because of that screener, you have to remember kids come to us because of their behaviors. It’s the reason that the schools are sending them to us.

What we’re able to do because of that screener, I say, “This child was sexually assaulted. This child’s been physically abused. This child basically is struggling with significant trauma, generational, poverty, and you name it.” You’re wondering why they’re not showing up for you in class. Here’s the reason. You do shut down to naysayers, the old school guard of teachers that are so focused on the students not doing what they’re supposed to be doing in class, and say, “Here’s the reason would you be able to focus on class and school if you were dealing with these obstacles.” It starts to bring everybody onto the same playing field and says, “We have a significant problem with this child and need to offer support so they can be emotionally available and safe.”

The other thing is that there is so much more research going on now about when we are subjected to adverse events and traumas in childhood. It influences how our brain, body, nervous system, and hormonal system develop. It’s a challenge to function well or at a high level if your central nervous system, endocrine system, and everything about your response to the world around you are off-kilter.

I can never remember his name correctly.

He is one of the premier researchers and writers about trauma, Bessel van der Kolk.

I’ve read his book and had it playing in the car. I would listen to it. I have the book on tape and play it in my car. One day my son was in the backseat, and I figured, “He could hear some of this stuff.” He got into a story. I said, “We’ve got to shut that off right now.” It was a little too much.

Gabor Mate, who’s written extensively about the research that says when we have these kinds of traumas in our childhood, it dramatically impacts brain development. It sets us up for that immediate gratification, addiction pattern, running from our own internal pain because we don’t have the strength in the core and the resources to deal with it.

His book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, is another one that talks about how many people are basically cast aside and thought of as well. They have low self-esteem, weak willpower, or don’t have self-control when it’s about neurological development and the effects of trauma on our physiology if it happens at a critical time.

Without getting too personal, I think of a specific instance in my life when I witnessed someone else go through a very traumatic event that wasn’t as traumatic for me because we all deal with trauma differently. I saw the same event, but physically because of their place or location during that event, it has changed the trajectory of their life.

The people who study trauma and what it is in different definitions for it understand that five people watching the same event may not all take trauma from it. They may not download things that impact them later in life, but 2 or 3 of those people might never be the same. They might never feel safe or have rewritten some of their beliefs about themselves, their role in the world, and whether or not the world is safe. That’s one of the ways to define whether or not an event that I’ve experienced has become a trauma for me.

If I’ve changed some of my fundamental beliefs about myself and my role in the world and the world safety, etc., we can say whatever that situation was, was traumatic for me. The thing that you’re doing by putting a coach in a school with a kid five days a week is a great way to give them that consistency, stability, and touchpoint so they can start to internalize the resources that can help them deal with life better.

If you’re overstimulated by everything, create time in your day to take space. Take time for yourself. Be present at the moment.

A lot of the students that we’re working with have never had that level of connection. Not that their families are not good, but we’re talking about someone who is specifically geared towards supporting their social and emotional wellbeing. I can 100% say that the vast majority of children in the United States don’t have that. That is an absolute fact. I don’t care. You can be the best parent on a planet, but even as good parents, most of us are not solely focused on those specific things.

To have that in such a crucial time in our society where kids are overstimulated. Poverty is running rampant in some areas. To have someone focused on those specific things is beyond helpful. When we created this modality, we knew that we were onto something. We took from our own experience what we believed we needed and looked at what the kids needed and said, “What would be best?”

Not that I’ll say what’s best, but what our need is for children to have someone there that was digging a little deeper than a buddy. We’re seeing great results. The kids love their coaches. I filled in for a coach. She was getting married. She was gone for three weeks. I filled in for Coach James Holden for her. I came in and filled it in one day. One of the kids says to me, “Where’s Coach Lindsay?” I said, “She’s getting married, buddy.” “When is she coming back?” I said, “She’ll be back next Monday.”

“I’m so mad at her.” I’m like, “Why?” “She left me.” I was like, “She didn’t leave you.” I see him the next day. It’s the same, “Where’s Coach Lindsay?” Our coaches are building such a bond with these kiddos that I don’t think, from what I’m hearing and what I see in schools, that a lot of kids aren’t building with anybody else in the building, which is amazing.

I think it’s absolutely true because there are so many school officials, teachers, and teachers’ aides that they’re so overworked and stressed. The system is broken. Having someone like you and We R H.O.P.E. coming in and trying to help shore up some of the worst parts of that broken system is a true blessing. You mentioned something about the assessments you do. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the tools that your coaches use with the students that they find most useful?

One of the biggest tools that we use is, there’s two taking space and breathing. These kids are coming in so overstimulated from whatever’s going on at home, their cell phones, their peer groups, whatever it may be. One of the main things that all the kids that I’ve ever worked with, and I tell our coaches the same thing, is creating time in their day as part of their plan. They should be allowed within their classroom to take space.

The reason that we use the words taking space is that taking a break always has this negative condensation around it. Taking space means I’m going to take time for me, for me, and me alone. It’s a time for me to reset. Taking space isn’t half an hour, 45 minutes. It’s 3 or 5 minutes. Step out of class, go grab some water down the hall, use the restroom, take a break or take a breath. Remember to be present at the moment around what you’re feeling and experiencing and check-in with yourself.

We do a lot of personal check-ins. What am I feeling? How do I know that I’m feeling that right? What is it making me want to do right now? Getting kids to identify their emotional state is probably one of the biggest tools that we use. It’s a self-identification but grounding skills and coping skills. As you know, grounding and coping are different for each person. A lot of five senses, what am I seeing? What am I hearing? What am I smelling? All of that. How many colors are in the room now?

We try to give kids things that they can do that no one knows they’re doing in class. They get anxious about it. “If I do this, then somebody is going to know.” What can we find for you to do in class? You can count colors in class, and nobody will have a single idea that you’re doing that. You can ask to go take some space. You can ask to use the restroom, and you’re making space for yourself. Nobody knows that you’re doing that.

You can sit in your chair, start at your pose, go to your ankles and go to your calves. Feel your body all the way up while you’re at your desk, and nobody knows. Trying to get them to do things where they can learn how this can incorporate later on in life when they’re at work, with their partner, and things aren’t going well. All these things or skills that they can utilize within their lives at any given moment.

You mentioned breathing as her particular type of breathwork.

OYM Sean Perry | We R H.O.P.E.

We R H.O.P.E.: The vast majority of children in the US don’t have someone who supports their social and emotional wellbeing. You can be the best parent on the planet and still not solely focus on those specific things.


The box breathing seems to be working well. It’s one of the things that all our coaches talk about a lot about box breathing, four in, four out. I think that’s been one of the things that I’ve heard a lot about. When we hear back from students, I hear box breathing, or they have a new one that they’re utilizing, which is birthday cake breathing. Birthday cake is can you smell the birthday cake? Can you smell that and blow out the candles? It’s another one. We’re trying to center and focus on what does birthday cake smell like? You’re trying to remove whatever is going on in a moment and settling in on something specific for yourself.

That’s a great one because so much is not taught. The things we can demonstrate to people in whatever we’re focusing on with our conscious mind are what we think is causing our upset. If we can shift to something else and demonstrate to ourselves, “It was my focus on that was causing the upset, not the thing itself.” It’s what I’m trying to make it mean or how I think I should push it away or how I should grab onto it.

That’s the mechanism that creates the tension within me because that thing is still here. If I can shift my thoughts over to what a birthday cake smells like, I can take that breath in and imagine blowing every candle out nice and slow. All of a sudden, the anxiety or the upset comes down. That thing that I thought was causing my upset is still right there across the room.

We’ve heard these sayings in our lives, mind over matter, all these things like that. It does boil down to that. If I shifted my focus onto something else, I could make a significant change in what I’m struggling with at that moment. It’s literally that easy, but it’s not that easy.

It gets easier. It’s like any skill. The more we learn and practice it, the easier it gets. Especially if we can start to have these people do it, whether they’re school-age people or adults, we can get them to do it enough that they start to develop that muscle memory for it. As soon as they shift over to the birthday cake breath, or the box breathing, or a shift of focus on what are they feeling from their ankles up to their chin, the body remembers, “Tim wants to relax now,” and starts to do that de-escalation all by itself.

It’s all about rewiring the brain and creating new neural pathways. I try to explain to the kiddos, the parents, and the teachers that this child has learned a faulty pattern of thinking that has created faulty/negative behavioral outcomes. We have to spend time rewiring the brain, letting them know that they don’t need to respond in that way. For instance, if you saw a spider when you were younger, and your mother or father screamed and made a big deal about it, the chances of you making screaming and making a big deal about it as you have grown are going to be high.

You’ve learned a faulty pattern of thinking, but if you learn to be present at the moment with that spider, realize that spider’s not jumping at you. It’s not going to attack you. It’s not going to do anything. You can learn to walk by the spider, scoop it up, put it outside, you want to kill it, whatever it is that you want to do to it, without that panic setting in, without that anxiety coming up. That’s all about rewiring the brain.

I use a spider scenario because I live with my wife, who is scared of bugs. She’ll say, “Can you come to get the spider?” I’ll say, “No, I cannot. You can do it. I will not come to get a spider for you.” What’s funny is that all three of my younger children have the same bug and spider fear because they saw mom with it, those big reactions to it cause theirs. Now, “You got to do it. It’s going to be okay. I know you’re scared. You got to do it. I’m not doing it.”

My daughter is off to college. She did call me one day while at school and said, “Dad, there is a huge spider in my room. What do I do?” I was like, “You’ve got to kill it.” “You’re in New York. Dad is in Vermont. I can’t help you. There’s nothing I can do. This is part of life. That’s what I’ve been telling you about for a long time. You’ve got to learn how to take care of these things yourself.” It’s rewiring and retraining that brain, as you know to look at things differently.

Before I forget, let’s have you tell us a little bit more about what is happening for you in this partnership with Africa?

Around the time you and I had originally spoken, I either finished or was getting ready to teach emotional CPR in sixteen countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. I was delivering that training there, and one of the people who helped to get that training together was Timothy Onyango. After the training, we connected. He’s a great man who has big plans for the children in his country and all that he’s seen there and wants to help and support. He’s been doing all this other work of training other people. We had been talking probably since September 2021 and staying in touch. I was mentoring him on some other things within his life and helping to support him.

If I shifted my focus onto something else, I could make a significant change in what I’m struggling with at that moment.

He was looking for ways to stay on task with what he wanted to do and stay future-focused. I was helping him. He wanted to do more than what he was doing. We started talking about what it would look like for We R H.O.P.E. to be in Kenya. I’m a doer. I don’t want to have a conversation with you about something that we know that we can get done for the next year. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it.

You put a pin in it, set a date, and will make it happen. That’s it. To me, it’s that simple. There’s no reason to have long, drawn-out conversations. I said to him, “What are your thoughts about doing the boots on the groundwork there in Kenya?” He said, “Sean, I want to do that. How can we make that happen?” I said, “The first thing we’ll do is get you trained in what we do and get all those trainings done. I get you on the We R H.O.P.E. board.”

I’ve got to get approval from our board. You got to get approval from your board. That’s literally what we did. I went to the board and said, “This is what I want to do.” My board said yes. We made the announcement the next day. That’s how quick I move. He and I had planned for me to go to Africa anyway, to ride motorcycles, out there with him and have fun.

He said to me, “Why don’t we make it the opening when you come off We R H.O.P.E?” I said, “Let’s start planning for that. What is that going to look like?” We got them trained and everything moving. The idea is we’re going to pilot one school. Africa is a little bit different in the sense of the funding piece. Here in the states, we’ve got all these different ways of funding. There it’s a little bit different.

If you’re in a private school, you have money. If you’re in a public school, you don’t have money. A little bit different in that regard. What we’re essentially doing is I’ve got our director of development working on grants for there. Onyango was working on grants as well. We’ve got three schools that have said yes. We have to find the funding for them.

We’re going to pilot one school. When I get there in June 2022, hopefully, we’d be able to open up and get going. If we haven’t opened up in June, I’ll at least have been at the schools and talked to them about what the program looks like, how we’re going to support it so forth, and so on. We said we wanted it to be in all 50 states, and I never imagined that we would be in Africa on another continent. It’s absolutely amazing.

If somebody who’s reading this says, “We need that We R H.O.P.E. program in our state or our school district,” what should they do?

They can go to Info@WERHOPE.org. Send me an email. That’s all they have to do and say, “We want to get started.” As long as they have the okay from the school, we can start talking about the contract piece. If not, and they have, you know, ways to set up a meeting, I’m willing, you know, we can start setting up the meetings. Let’s say this to me.

I don’t say no to anybody when it comes to, “Can we get you in our building?” Yes, you can. Let’s figure it out. What I will say is one thing we’re not going to do in 2022 that we did in 2021 is we’re not going to open up in the middle of the school year. That was beyond stressful. Not that we can’t do it, but what happens is it takes away from the schools that we’re already in.

I had meetings set up, and I’m supposed to do this. Now I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off and all these different states trying to do something where I may have already, well, not may have I already had my rotation planned out. I plan my rotation at the beginning of the school year of how many days I’m going to this school and how many days I’m going to that school?

When a new school district comes in, let’s say, December, January, or February, that throws everything off-kilter, and we’re already in a groove in the school year. That would be the only thing that I would say to anybody getting ready to come up. If you want to start taking We R H.O.P.E. in your buildings in other states, let’s start having that conversation the sooner, the better, because once September hits, we’re not taking any more contracts for the school year. What we have is what we have. That’s so that we can make sure that we’re delivering the best of ourselves at all times. I have dedicated my attention appropriately to each and every school that they deserve.

OYM Sean Perry | We R H.O.P.E.

We R H.O.P.E.: As long as you stay focused and want something, you’ll get it. When you start to doubt yourself and listen to that man in the back of your mind, things fall apart. Just say, “no, not today.”


It’s delightful to see you again and to hear what you’re doing. We will be hopeful that the next time we touch base, we are closer to that being in all 50 states. We’ll be checking in a year to see what the progress is in Kenya for We R H.O.P.E.

Yes, I’m excited. I cannot wait. Everything I’ve put my mind to, as long as I am staying in it, it happens. I think that’s for all of us. As long as we stay focused and want it, we’ll get it. It’s when we doubt, and we give up on ourselves and listen to that man in the back of our mind, and when that guy pops in, I say, “No, not now.”

You don’t know how to do that. I’ll figure it out.

It’s nice to see you again as well. I appreciate you having me back on.

It’s my pleasure. We’ll check in about a year and see how things are going in Kenya.

That sounds great.


Thank you.

Sean Perry has two decades of coaching experience and working with youth. He ran two residential treatment centers for mental health and observed firsthand that mental health care was supporting “the haves” rather than the “have nots” more than anyone would like to admit. The lack of equality in mental health support services pushed Sean to create We R H.O.P.E. Inc. We R H.O.P.E. hopes to create change in mental health by bringing mental health support at a much younger age and breaking the stigma of mental illness at the school and community level.

Sean is the President and Cofounder of We R H.O.P.E. Sean is a certified life coach, cognitive-behavioral coach, nonviolent crisis intervention specialist, instructor certified in childhood trauma, exposure-response prevention specialist, and signs of suicide prevention trainer. He’s trained in collaborative problem-solving and is an international trainer for emotional CPR, one of the curriculum writers and trainers for Youth Emotional CPR and the first to bring Youth Emotional CPR to a school setting.


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About Sean Perry

OYM Sean Perry | We R H.O.P.E.Sean Perry has two decades of coaching experience and working with youth. He ran two residential treatment centers for mental health and observed firsthand that mental health care was supporting “the haves” rather than the “have nots” more than anyone would like to admit. The lack of equality in mental health support services pushed Sean to create We R H.O.P.E. Inc. We R H.O.P.E. hopes to create change in mental health by bringing mental health support at a much younger age and breaking the stigma of mental illness at the school and community level.

Sean is the President and Co-Founder of We R H.O.P.E. Sean is a certified Life Coach, Cognitive Behavioral Coach, Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Specialist/Instructor, certified in Childhood Trauma, Exposure Response Prevention Specialist, Signs of Suicide Prevention trainer, trained in collaborative problem solving, international trainer in Emotional CPR, and one of the curriculum writers and trainers for Youth Emotional CPR and the first to bring youth eCPR to a school setting.

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