San Juan Basin Public Health Building ‘Thriving Youth Programs’

San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) continually works to meet the community’s needs and therefore strives to be a flexible, responsive agency. What was once referred to as “Health Policy and Systems” at SJBPH is now rebranded as “Thriving Youth Programs” and includes Communities That Care (coalition work to prevent youth problem behaviors such as substance use, depression, and anxiety), and suicide prevention programs. This intentional and strategic change is a direct result of the community’s need for more resources and attention to improve the well-being of youth in La Plata County. Thriving Youth Programs aims to promote positive youth development, primary prevention, and social connectedness, so that youth in La Plata County will not only thrive, but also feel a sense of belonging and connectedness.

There is no denying that our youth today face formidable social problems and the issues they face are complex. Young people receive contradictory messages about what society expects of them. They are exposed daily to harmful social media highlight reels and depictions of substance use. Further, there is a disconnect in the messaging to youth about their value in the community versus how valued they actually feel.

As times change, so must the ways we connect to youth as well as the ways we address disconnect. There’s not one answer to why someone chooses to use substances, or why they isolate themselves in gaming platforms or social media, or why one may contemplate or complete suicide. Answers will be found in looking upstream to what youth face before experiencing these problem behaviors. What conditions exist in our community, school, family, or self that direct a young person to these paths? To ignore these factors is to leave out a large piece of the puzzle. On the flip side, what conditions exist that protect youth from these problem behaviors and connect them to adult role models and a supportive community?

SJPBH’s Thriving Youth Programs strive to tackle these complex issues by addressing the risks young people face and by working to build a more supportive, connected, and protective environment. Collective impact describes an intentional way of working together and sharing information for the purpose of solving a complex problem. Proponents of collective impact believe that the approach is more likely to solve complex problems than if a single organization were to approach the same problem on its own. SJBPH’s staff are utilizing a collective impact approach in addressing youth development ensuring that lines of communication are open, that agencies support one another in their goals, that duplication of services is avoided, and that resources are shared, for the purpose of reaching a larger goal together—that of improving the well-being of youth in La Plata County.

SJBPH’s Thriving Youth Programs staff have taken the lead as a convener for a collective impact approach. The agency firmly believes that one person, program, or organization can’t do it all. Youth development and prevention efforts require a community-based effort, with engagement from a wide range of organizations, agencies, and individuals. As a community, we need to come together to tackle these issues (substance use, social connectedness, depression, etc.) for our youth, with their involvement and direction. Solutions for the obstacles or issues local youth face should be proposed by youth, as they must own a part of the plan moving forward, or they will remain disconnected and disempowered.

Together we are stronger. Together we can make a greater impact on reaching our goal of living in a community where young people feel a sense of belonging, and a sense of attachment and connectedness. To learn more about San Juan Basin Public Health’s Thriving Youth Programs please contact Kate Jones, Thriving Youth Programs Supervisor, at 970-335-2084 or kjones@sjbpublichealth.org.

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