Sanctuary Philadelphia Independent Cultural Youth

A program for immigrant and refugee youth exploring experiences of mental health support, identity, and community.

Over 23% of Philadelphia’s 322,200 children under the age of 18 are immigrants (PEW). While research has empirically documented a need for mental health support for immigrant and refugee children, westernized approaches may not always be the most effective, culturally appropriate, or accessible.

The Sanctuary Philadelphia Independent Cultural Youth (S.P.I.C.Y.) is a group of immigrant and refugee youth exploring experiences of mental health support, identity, and community. Initiated by Creative Resilience Collective (CRC), Southeast by Southeast (SExSE) – a community space under Mural Arts for immigrant and refugee families, and academic investigator Dr. Amy Henderson Riley at the Thomas Jefferson University College of Population Health (JCPH), the pilot program began in September 2019 with 10 middle school age teens.

S.P.I.C.Y. workshops promote leadership, agency-building, cross-cultural understanding, collaboration and creative skills through: critical dialog, collaborative writing and/or drawing, photo-collage, logo design, screen printing, and zine making.

Through a series of monthly workshops, CRC facilitators bring SExSE’s two community sites (one in Southeast Philadelphia and one Northeast Philadelphia) together to co-create art and explore topics related to mental health. Programming began at the Southeast Philadelphia location, which serves primarily Bhutanese and Burmese communities. The second session took place in Lower Northeast Philadelphia, serving primarily Iraqi, Egyptian, Sudanese, and Syrian refugee communities. Youth from both sites alternate between SExSE locations every month. This exchange provides a space for immigrant youth living in different parts of Philadelphia to expand community networks across the city.

CRC worked with teens to identify phrases and spaces in their neighborhood where they felt a sense of sanctuary and care. With Mural Arts and SExSE, these phrases and locations went on to support a collaboration with artist Amberella.

In November 2019, Amberella installed S.P.I.C.Y. hearts with Karen translations in Southeast Philadelphia at Mifflin Square park. Arabic S.P.I.C.Y. hearts can also be found at The Exchange at Oxford and within the teen lounge of Northeast Regional Public Library.

Since March 2020, SPICY workshops have shifted to online monthly meetings. CRC facilitators continue to hold space for creative art and media making, while facilitating discussions that explore themes related to personal identity, community care, and mental health.

Check out our world of text to see documentation from the last few SPICY conversations on identity and belonging. 


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Creative Resilience Collective is a health justice organization based in Philadelphia. We partner with underserved communities and advocates looking to combat stigma and improve access to self-determined mental health care.

We believe our collective agency can create positive change in care systems, leading to more equitable futures. We do this through educational workshops, study groups, critical writing, public art, youth programs, and the building of local tools and resources to shape the evolution of dignified care.


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