Despite sparse attendance, three meetings held recently to inform parents about the challenges young people face reached key people, said Barb Reiter, Jefferson County’s prevention specialist and DUI task force coordinator and the meetings’ organizer.

The meetings were held at Whitehall Community Center, Clancy Library and Jefferson High School on Oct. 21, Oct. 24 and Oct. 29, respectively. Each featured a panel discussion and information about drugs and alcohol, smoking and vaping, and other potentially harmful activities youth engage in.

The meetings were paid for through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Reiter said.

The Clancy meeting attracted the most people, with about 15 attending including panelists and other stakeholders. Reiter said about 10 showed up at Jefferson High, a few more people than panelists and stakeholders, while only two people — one of them a school principal — came to the presentation in Whitehall.

In Clancy, the panel featured Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy and DARE instructor David Kosola, therapist Kyrie Russ, Jefferson County’s tobacco prevention specialist Nicole Palmer, and parent Lee Benner. Kosola opened a window onto drugs and other issues law enforcement confronts, Russ spoke of teen mental health and suicide, and Palmer showed examples of vaping devices disguised as USB thumb drives and even a hoodie with a tubular “drawstring” for inhaling. Benner spoke of losing an adult son to alcoholism (read her remarks on page 5).

“My goal in life is to tell my story and hopefully save a life,” Benner said at the meeting.

Despite the low turnout, Reiter said that “connections were made that maybe weren’t there before.”

She said librarians Carly Delsigne in Clancy and Jodi Smiley in Boulder have expressed interest in doing more through the libraries to address these topics.

Delsigne said in an email that she “learned a great deal from each of the panelists” at the Clancy event. She said the information would be discussed “extensively” at the next staff-wide meeting.

“At the library we help connect a lot of teenagers, parents and grandparents with appropriate resources,” she wrote. “My hope is to put together a reference guide for our staff and our patrons of those resources [Reiter] shared. Things are changing quickly. If we’re going to help, we’ve got to keep up.”

Following the Jefferson High meeting, Reiter said she and school nurse Pam Henna met with Principal Mike Moodry to learn more about what the school is doing to address teen mental health. Late last year, the school was one of only eight nationwide that participated in a pilot project for a peer-to-peer approach to teen mental health.

In an email to the Monitor, Moodry said he reported the school has seen “significant improvement with student-to-student empathy” following the pilot and is now using mentoring and community building to fight bullying.

The new approach, which replaces the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, “is geared toward making sure our school is more inclusive,” Moodry wrote.

“Students that are seen as outsiders and do not feel connected to the school community are at a higher risk of being bullies and being bullied,” he wrote. “Our focus is to make our school community more welcoming. If we are able to make connections with every student and they feel safe, we will lessen the likelihood of bullying occurring.”

Reiter learned from the meetings the need to better engage schools and parents in prevention efforts.

“I just think it’s so key in our county to keep focusing on our kids,” she said.

Reiter said anyone wanting to learn more can contact her at 406-461-3618 or breiter@jeffersoncounty-mt.gov.

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