Opinion

`Communities That Care" on the Island

Of all the issues we see facing the youth on Mercer Island, one of the most distressing for all of the staff members who work with youth is the level of drug and alcohol use. From my first few days on the job, community members as well as other people have come up to me in my office or at Summer Celebration and said things such as ``You know, we have a great community, but we have to do something about the kids' drinking'' ? or ? ``If you can do anything in your job, can you make a difference in the amount of drinking by kids on the Island?" These aren't isolated comments. They come in a steady stream and in many forms. They come not from people wanting to make disparaging remarks about Island life, but from Islanders who speak softly and care deeply about their child, their neighbor's child or one of their children's friends.

Mercer Island is a positive community with many strengths. There is a strong focus on achievement, goal attainment and having the best life has to offer. Parents provide their children with resources and opportunities so that they will have options to take them where they'd like to go. People are concerned with the well-being of their family, their community and their world. But like any community, there are some inherent challenges in this lifestyle. And some of these challenges often result in high levels of youth drug and alcohol use.

In response to this community concern, the Department of Youth and Family Services is launching a new project, Communities That Care (CTC). CTC is a nationally validated best practice prevention model that facilitates communities in coming together to address the issue of youth alcohol and drug use. Youth and Family Services received a grant from Public Health- Seattle & King County's Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Program to execute this community mobilization project over the next two years. The Coordinator of CTC is Suzanne Tedesko. In the coming weeks, Ms. Tedesko will be recruiting a group representing a wide range of community stakeholders to:

^lh Review available data related to our community's youth risk behaviors.

^lh Establish priorities based on that review.

^lh Take stock of the programs and services available (both current and past efforts) for children and youth - what has worked and what has not.

^lh Identify appropriate research-based programs and initiatives that will be used to address priority issues.

^lh Evaluate the effectiveness of the implemented programs or initiatives.

Bringing Columbia University's Dr. Suniya Luthar to Mercer Island was the kick off event for the CTC project. On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Dr. Suniya Luthar spoke to members of the community at a luncheon, an evening lecture and an informal morning coffee session at Island Books. Dr. Luthar's research has focused on youth growing up in affluent communities and the associated risk behaviors. Her research in communities with demographics similar to Mercer Island has demonstrated higher levels of drug and alcohol use, anxiety and depression than those found is the general population. The group of community members who worked to bring Dr. Luthar to Mercer Island did so with the hope that we could all gain a shared perspective and a shared vocabulary to talk about issues that affect our youth. Dr. Luthar's research and findings are relevant to our community and offer us insight into how we might approach lowering the level of drug and alcohol use.

The next step in the CTC process is the formation of the CTC Community Board. With a shared knowledge base and local data related to youth risk behaviors, the Community Board will identify and implement interventions appropriate to the island. The challenge of youth drug and alcohol use is one that we need to address as a community. This is not a problem that can be addressed solely by the schools, parents, police, YFS or any other community entity. The reasons and causes of youth drug and alcohol use are varied and complicated. The CTC Community Board will be charged with developing effective interventions on an individual, family and community level. This problem did not arise overnight and it will not be improved upon overnight.

We must take stock of what contributes to youth use and abuse on Mercer Island and then work together to come up with interventions that can be sustained over time, so that the city's vision of ``A Healthy Community for All Its Members'' can be realized. Wouldn't it be great if in addition to having winning sports teams, great real estate values and exemplary schools, Islanders could add to their laurels that youth here have exceptionally low rates of drug and alcohol use, anxiety and depression? This would be a gift to our youth, our community and every community in which our children will settle. This would be a true testament to our love and commitment to our children.

For more information on the Communities That Care project, contact Suzanne Tedesko at Suzanne.Tedesko@ci.mercer-island.wa.us.

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