Not on their watch

As obstacles to teen well-being surface, programs and agencies devised to help make themselves known

PowerUp YOUth coalition members man a table at a recent Slam the Stigma night in Jewell.

Our teens’ well-being is our world’s well-being. To go forward in wellness, they must grow up in wellness.

There are people in Hamilton, and surrounding counties, who work tirelessly toward that goal. They know that it is easier to guide young people than it is to heal a wounded soul.

And they know, to use a familiar phrase, that it takes a village.

They are a village.

But so are the adults and young people to whom they reach out, encouraging them to live in a way that nurtures well-being, whether by comfort or example.

Their mission?

That every young person lives their best life.

“In addition to education being key to prevention,” said Tiffany Larson, “having supports in prevention. We also work with, support and advocate for those impacted by various obstacles/challenges in life.”

Larson, the Community Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (CAPP) coordinator for Building Families, which serves Hamilton, Humboldt and Wright counties, has long advocated for healthy youth. In her professional role, her outreach includes active participation in a coalition whose very name proclaims its mission: Power Up YOUth.

For years, this coalition of social service leaders has been quietly — and sometimes not-so-quietly — working for the benefit of the greater community’s young people. Originally, its mission was to help create a drug-free environment. But with the passing of time, and tragic developments, Power Up YOUth’s focus has broadened.

Two of those developments are mass tragedies, such as the recent shooting in Perry’s high school, and the rising number of suicides among youth.

Results from the portion of the 2021 Iowa Youth Survey that focuses on Prairie Lakes AEA (Area Education Agency) underscore the crisis.

In it, roughly a quarter of the kids surveyed admitted they had attempted suicide in the year leading up to the survey.

Here are some of those statistics:

Question: In the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities? Percentages reflect yes answers.

Sixth grade: 32%

Eighth grade: 30%

11th grade: 37%

Question: In the past 12 months, have you thought about killing yourself?

Sixth grade: 19%

Eighth grade: 22%

11th grade: 25%

Question: In the past 12 months, have you made a plan about how you would kill yourself?

Sixth grade: 46%

Eighth grade: 57%

11th grade: 47%

Question: In the past 12 months, have you tried to kill yourself?

Sixth grade: 22%

Eighth grade: 32%

11th grade: 25%

Question: If you attempted to kill yourself in the past 12 months, did any attempt result in an injury, poisoning, or overdose that had to be treated by a doctor or nurse?

Sixth grade: 24%

Eighth grade: 21%

11th grade: 28%

And here’s another stunning statistic:

Thirty-three percent of the 11th-graders asked if they were homeless at any time in the past 12 months answered yes.

Power Up YOUth’s mission is “A coalition to ensure safe, strong youth and families in a thriving Hamilton County,” but hopelessness and homelessness don’t respect artificial boundaries.

Larson wants everyone to know there are ways to reach beyond them.

Most recently, Power Up YOUth partnered with South Hamilton Community Schools for Slam the Stigma, which saw many of the participating agencies interacting with young people who attended the varsity basketball games in Jewell on February 6.

“Slam the Stigma was started in the fall of 2022 by the family of a student who died by suicide,” Larson said. “The first event was held during basketball games played at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows versus Eagle Grove. Local resources for mental health and suicide awareness were invited to have a table for guests to visit and get information.

“Many resources in attendance felt the event was a wonderful way to reach students and parents and continued the concept by planning additional Slam the Stigma nights this year at Fort Dodge, Eagle Grove and other school districts in our central Iowa area this basketball season.”

The event, Larson said, was a blend of “the thrill of sports with a crucial focus on mental well-being.”

Its purpose? Promote mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigmas associated with it.

Events like Slam the Stigma are also opportunities to open that connection between youth, parents and/or caregivers and community members.

“This is an outreach initiative focused on bringing crucial conversations around mental health to the forefront,” she said.

She is joined in this massive effort by the following like-purposed organizations: Hamilton County Public Health, YSS of Hamilton County, Community & Family Resources, Hamilton County Extension, NAMI Central Iowa, Building Families Early Childhood Area, Bee Inspired CAPP Program, Parent Connection HHW, Crisis Intervention Service Van Diest Medical Center, UnityPoint Health – Des Moines – Eyerly Ball, Community Health Center of Fort Dodge, Mason City, Dayton, Eagle Grove, Suicide Prevention for Hamilton, Webster & Wright Counties, and CICS (Central Iowa Community Services) in Hamilton County.


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