Washing your hands and getting the flu shot could protect you from some of the nasty bugs that are coming our way. Putting a behavioral health counselor in every school in the Valley could do something similar for your children.
So says Terry Pottmeyer, President and Chief Executive Officer of Friends of Youth, an organization serving area children and youth since 1951.
“The kids we see in our outpatient services… a lot of young people are coming to us for our mental health reasons. Number one is depression and anxiety,” she said. “We’ve made great strides in teaching kids about physical health, but we’ve lagged about how to be socially healthy, what to do when you’re feeling sad or lonely, or being bullied.”
She’s not talking about high school guidance counselors, of course, but mental health and behavioral health counselors. A behavioral health counselor, although not allocated for in any part of the state funding formula, can help children with mental health and drug abuse issues, and could provide children the same support as “a booster shot” against these problems, Pottmeyer said.
There is a demand, too. In the 2016-17 school year, Friends of Youth assisted 169 students at Mount Si High School and another 88 at the Freshman Campus. They also served 80 Two Rivers students and 28 at Twin Falls Middle School.
In the Riverview School District, Friends of Youth assisted 56 youth at Cedarcrest High School with substance abuse problems. The organization also served 21 at Tolt Middle School, plus 67 students at the Riverview Learning Center with mental health services.
Most of the support is provided free, although the organization does have some contracts for service with the school districts, largely funded by grants.
Friends of Youth has been on a five-year mission to fund enough counselors to place one in every school in both the Snoqualmie Valley and Riverview School Districts, Pottmeyer said, “…beginning at the elementary level, so we can teach kids about how to be mentally healthy, and we are providing support at the middle and high school levels.
A successful staff ratio, she said, is a half-time counselor in every elementary school, and a full-time counselor at every middle and high school.
“By having a counselor in every school, in addition to giving these kids that resilience and immediate support, it helps to reduce that stigma of needing help,” she added. “We’re hoping to shift the whole culture.”
Toward that goal, Friends of Youth is hosting a series of free community breakfasts to raise the funds to hire counselors for all those schools. The first is 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25, at Meadowbrook Farm Interpretive Center, 1711 Boalch Ave NW, North Bend, followed by events at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Riverview School District’s Education Service Center, 15506 1st Ave NE, Duvall and 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8 at the Issaquah Holiday Inn, 1801 12th Ave. NW, Issaquah.
Each of the events will feature a speaker in the field of mental and behavioral health, and a Friends of Youth client sharing his or her story. Each breakfast is also a fundraiser for the effort to place counselors in every school, which Pottmeyer estimates will cost $300,000 to $350,000 each year.
“It’s not something we can do at a free breakfast,” she said, but the breakfast events will increase awareness, which is just as important.
“If (people) come to our breakfast, they’d see what today’s kids are facing,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to understand some of the challenges kids are facing.”
With increased awareness, families may be more likely to refer children for services, and the momentum for getting counselors into every school will grow.
“We are building slowly,” said Pottmeyer, as awareness spreads. “If this is the important thing we need to do to make sure our kids grow up happy, healthy, well-educated… then it needs to be a commitment,” she said.
For more information on the events, visit www.friendsofyouth.org.