Following up from a great Spring Gathering!
Thanks to everyone who joined us on June 13th for our first in-person gathering in a few years! It was wonderful to come together to share a meal and talk about youth mental health. We wish that we had more time together than two brief hours, but feel that it was time well spent and hope all of our attendees feel the same way.
We kicked off the evening with an amazing meal prepared by Culinary Arts students from the Region 9 School of Applied Technology: spring salad with citrus vinaigrette, herbed focaccia rolls, and creamy ham and potato chowder. Local ingredients were used throughout, thanks to the diligent local sourcing of Chef Catherine Brown (who leads the program). You can keep up with the program and check out the delicious treats that Chef Catherine and her students are creating for the Rumford Farmers Market on the Friends of Region 9 Culinary Arts Facebook page.
As guests finished their meals we began our program with an overview of youth mental health, which is in an alarming state both nationally and locally. You can see this brief overview in slides which can be downloaded in PowerPoint and PDF form below.
The slides use some data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS), which is a great source of info about how our middle and high school students are doing in Maine. There's a great website for the MIYHS with an interactive data dashboard where you can see how Oxford County compares to other counties, and the state on some key health and wellness measures. There are also a number of helpful fact sheets about Adverse Childhood Experiences, tobacco use/vaping, health disparities for LGBTQ+ students, marijuana, and mattering. You can find it all here:
After this sobering context, we shifted gears to draw attention to a few places where things were going well for youth. Our "Bright Spots" included programs that were supporting positive youth development and mental health.
First up was the Alan Day Community Garden's Youth Leadership Program, which has been providing opportunities for youth to learn about gardening, community, leadership, and sustainability for several years. This 3.5 minute video shows the power and promise of this program far far better than words can describe:
You can learn more about the program at the Garden's website, which also includes a link to donate to help support programs and make the Youth Leadership Program accessible to more youth.
Next we learned about the North Star Youth Mentorship Program happening at Telstar Middle and High School in SAD44. This amazing program allows young people to build relationships with caring mentors and adult volunteers over the span of six years (Grades 7-12), and to expand their horizons at the same time by visiting new places (and the colleges in those places). You can learn more about the program here: https://extension.umaine.edu/bryantpond/northstar/.
There are several ways to make a difference by volunteering to support North Star, from tutoring to leading an activity to mentoring a cohort of students. You can find details, as well as contact info for volunteering, on their website.
Chef Catherine described the many local farms which contributed ingredients to our meal, and the difference in quality that these fresh, carefully grown and produced foods make when preparing dishes. Her students recognize that difference, and are building skills in the kitchen that will serve them for many years to come, whether or not they pursue a career in the culinary field. She and her students received a well-deserved round of applause for preparing and serving such a memorable meal--and the brown butter brownie sundaes that were served up for dessert!
We had a little time at the end of the night (not nearly enough, we knew some people would be driving an hour home and didn't want to keep folks late) to reflect on what we'd heard, and to ask questions. It was a great opportunity to hear more from the young people who were with us that evening. Although we tried to connect with local youth and invite them, we recognize that the event being at the end of the school year made the timing difficult--and that we have work to do on improving our own youth engagement. Youth were few in number that night, so I'm both impressed and filled with gratitude to have young people jump in the conversation to provide their perspective and ideas about youth mental health and how adults can step up to provide more help. The major themes of our conversation are captured in these notes:
youth need safe spaces/relationships/connections/experiences - safe to be themselves…
young life is very different today
adults don't know how to engage
youth won't engage with adults on their own
practice trauma-informed youth engagement
education for adults on trauma-informed youth engagement
continue ACEs/Resilience work for all
education for adults on today’s youth life experience
promote/support adult volunteer opportunities to engage with youth
create adult volunteer opportunities to engage with youth in a safe/trauma-informed way
Some resources related to potential actions are listed below. This gathering felt like an important part of the path forward. We hope that you'll join us in the fall for another in-person gathering, where we continue the journey together, and decide as a community how we'll move forward to build health and wellness for Oxford County.
Thanks again to all of our attendees, to all of the OCWC Steering Committee members who filled important roles for the event, and to the Region 9 School of Applied Technology for hosting us!
Please be in touch if you have thoughts that you want to add to the mix. You can reach out to Brendan Schauffler with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (2O7) 744-6191.
The Resilience Matters to ME campaign provides essential information about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and resilience. www.resiliencematterstome.org
The Maine Resilience Building Network (MRBN) provides information about trauma-informed practices on their website, where you can also find info about trainings that they offer on this topic. https://maineresilience.org/Trauma-Informed
MRBN also leads work on Youth Mattering--working to make sure more Maine youth feel like they matter to their communities. You can learn about this important work here, and find resources (including suggestions for small acts that make a big difference): https://maineresilience.org/Mattering
The Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (often called NAMI Maine) offers trainings on a variety of topics, including mental health first aid. Learn more here: https://namimaine.org/programs/mental-health-first-aid/