Boys & Girls Club students tackle vital health topic | CraigDailyPress.com

Boys & Girls Club students tackle vital health topic

Michael Neary

Moffat County Students Mackenzi Telford

— When students at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig began discussing ideas for a social action project, they didn't shy away from a serious issue that affects a multitude of community lives. And they weren't intimidated by the fact that it's a topic usually discussed by adults.

"We thought that a rec center would be a good idea, but then we thought that there were people in Craig who needed mental health help," said Mackenzi Telford, a 12-year-old student at Craig Middle School. "So, we thought that would be a better idea."

Mackenzi was referring to a new project at the Boys & Girls Club that gives middle school students a chance to draft a letter to present in public to city council or possibly to another organization. The letter will include a suggestion to make a change in the community, in this case to bolster area mental health services.

Mackenzi is president of the Torch Club, the group at the Boys & Girls Club that's working on the project.

Tessa Fulton, teen director at Craig's Boys & Girls Club, said she and other staff members attended a training session in Denver with Boys & Girls Clubs of America several months ago. Organizers, she explained, talked about the concept of a "social action project" that involves engaging students to suggest a change that could improve their community — a change that they choose.

So, back in Craig, Fulton introduced a few ideas in a group discussion.

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"When we were brainstorming, I said, 'Throw things out that you guys think are issues in our community,'" she said during a recent afternoon at the Craig Boys & Girls Club. "One of the very first things that was thrown out was suicide, and so we talked about suicide. And then the second thing to be thrown out was addiction."

Eventually, Fulton explained, it became clear that improving mental health services could encompass the various problems the students were identifying.

Fulton said students are now working to suggest expansion of mental health treatment in the community.

"Our ultimate objective with the whole project is to expand on our existing mental health facilities here in Moffat County," Fulton said, noting that she and the students would like to see overnight mental health treatment facilities that alleviate the need to travel as far as Grand Junction to receive respite care. Fulton said about 15 students have been discussing the issue on most Mondays, with four having committed firmly to the project.

"Nothing's too big for them," she said. "They don't have those limitations that I think a lot of adults do. They just get an idea and they want to run with it."

Fulton said students in the Boys & Girls Club of Steamboat Springs are working on a social action project as well, with a focus on combating middle school pressures such as bullying.

When students at the Boys & Girls Club in Craig first began discussing the topic, Fulton explained, they described just how closely mental health issues had touched their lives. She said students talked about their own experiences and about the experiences of their relatives: aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings who had sought or received treatment.

Fulton said the project gives students a chance to dig into a problem and to cooperate with one another, and also to know that their ideas will be taken seriously.

"It really shows them that it doesn't matter how old you are, and it doesn't matter how long you've been a part of something," she said. "You can choose to take action and start changing (something) right now. And I feel like this shows them that there are adults out there who will try to be there to respond — and to help them change the community in ways that they thing the community ought to change."

Students are also working on the project across age barriers. Taylor Oxenreider, an 18-year-old student at Moffat County High School, works as a junior staff member — a paid position — to help facilitate discussion and provide support for the students. She attended the training in Denver with Fulton.

"I like working with (the younger students)," Taylor said. "I feel like a role model."

But Taylor said she's learned to talk on the same level with the younger students, even as she assumes the role of a kind of guide.

"I treat them like they're in high school," she said. "I treat them like my friends. I don't down-talk them because they're younger than me. I treat them like adults."