MI Healthy Youth Initiative programs benefit parents, students

Fentanyl Awareness Program is set for Oct. 4.

After attending the “Guiding Good Choices” program last year, Mercer Island’s Shannon Leversedge felt she had received the playbook for parenting when challenges arise.

“It gave me the much-needed tools to parent with confidence around topics I wanted to make sure we discussed and in a way that avoided anyone feeling uncomfortable,” said the mother of a middle-schooler.

“Guiding Good Choices” is the first of several MI Healthy Youth Initiative free programs to hit the calendar this fall and is geared toward parents of sixth- and seventh-graders to help them guide their children’s behavior and decision making. The five-week online University of Washington evidence-based program commenced on Oct. 2.

Initiative coordinator Michelle Ritter, who works within the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) department, said the online kickoff program helps strengthen communication between parents and their children at a time when youth are being exposed to substances.

“We want to make sure our parents are sending strong messages and regular messages in regular conversations with their kids about the choices they’re making around substances, and mental health, and kind of finding that balance,” Ritter said.

Other critical programs on tap are a Fentanyl Awareness Program from 7-8 p.m. on Oct. 4 at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center; a four-week online series, PEPS for Parents of Adolescents and Teens, begins on Oct. 5 (high school program) and Nov. 6 (middle school program); an eight-week online “Incredible Years Attentive Parenting” UW evidenced-based curriculum that will begin on Oct. 16 for parents of children ages 2-6; and the third MI Healthy Youth Forum — a continuance in uplifting students’ voices — from 7-8:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the community and event center.

Regarding the fentanyl awareness event, YFS Administrator Derek Franklin noted: “We are so pleased to have the support of Mayor Nice and so many community members for our partnership with the DEA to bring the fentanyl awareness event to Mercer Island. I have heard from parents of kids of all ages with legitimate concern about fentanyl and recommend they attend this event to educate themselves about the risks and to learn how to address them.”

Grant funding to offer the programs comes through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA). A pair of four- and five-year grants totals $1,394,036 thus far. They are: Strategic Prevention Framework – Partnerships for Success Grant (SPF-PFS Grant) and Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act Grant (STOP Act Grant).

Ritter feels it’s vital to support local youth individually in their homes and in the community as a whole.

“I think it’s important to note that just because we live in this community that is very safe and mostly well provided for, our students have some unique challenges around the pressures that we put on them and kind of that understanding who they are and how they fit in this world,” she added.

Parents also praised the previous years’ PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) and “Incredible Years Attentive Parenting” foundational programs. This year, PEPS has added parenting for adolescents and teens into its curriculum and the program is run by a trained facilitator. On the “Incredible Years” front, Dr. Ziv Bell and YFS’s Kara Harrison will be leading the way in offering parents new skills to promote children’s problem solving, social competence and emotional self-regulation, reading and school readiness.

Ritter said the main focus of the programs is supporting Island adults as they traverse their parenting journey toward forming strong bonds with their children and guiding them to make better choices.

“Through the Healthy Youth Initiative, our goal really is to support youth so that they can make good choices and have a solid foundation for having a balanced life with well-being and health,” she said.

For more information, visit https://www.mihealthyyouth.com/