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Teens host community dialogue

A branch of REACH Mentoring, the group Students Offer Support met with the public June 6 to discuss the needs of area youth. Back, from left: Grace Krueger, Laine Langenbrunner, Mackenzie Bassett, Julie Hill, Gina Misquadace, Aubrey Compo, Cordelia Shaugobay and Allie Radovich; middle: Lilly Westmoreland, Hannah Durfee, Ella Oveson, Dakota KoskiFront Row: Kaylee Anderson, Brianna Demers, Ashley Chard, Annali Johnson and Anne Parish; front: Nemo Johnson. Contributed photo

It turns out Carlton County kids want the same thing as everyone else: to be heard, to be valued and to be safe.

That's what adults who attended a community dialogue organized by Students Offering Support (SOS) on Wednesday, June 6, at the Cloquet Library. It was aimed toward adults working with or caring about opportunities for youth after school.

SOS is a branch of REACH Mentoring Program. Several students were inspired to reach out to peers to educate them about suicide prevention after they received training for TXT4Life. The students brainstormed together with REACH and created SOS.

The students meet during their lunchtime at school and work on team building, sharing information about a variety of topics and how to work with the community to foster a better communication to the needs of area youth.

"It's a beautiful concept," program coordinator Anne Parish said.

Students from the majority of Carlton County schools participate in the group. Some students want to help others, with some are outspoken about their issues of depression, anxiety and suicide.

Several students shared their stories of their struggles with the audience, while others just listened.

The audience shared ideas and opinions with students after answering questions the students had written in advance, such as:

• "What do you believe are some of the most important characteristics of after school activities for young people?;"

• "What makes you most proud of our young people?;"

• "What do you believe are some of the most important issues that must be addressed to improve the health and quality of life of young people in Carlton County?;"

• "What are some specific examples of people or groups working together in Carlton County to improve the health and quality of life of our young people?;"

• "What do you believe is keeping Carlton County from doing what needs to be done to improve health and quality of life with young people?;"

• "What action, policy of funding priorities would you support to build a healthier Carlton County community with young people?;" and

• "What would excite you enough to become involved, or more involved, in improving Carlton County with young people?"

Once the audience answered the questions the teens read their responses and compared the similarities and differences with the adults.

Conversations were sparked and sometimes passionate.

Some of the main topics were schools, safe spaces, transportation issues and places to go and activities for teens outside of school.

Students asked the audience if they were aware that used needles and condoms have been found in the wooded area near Churchill Elementary School playground.

Most adults appeared shocked.

"Kids show up at McDonald's without adults because they don't have anywhere else to go," Hannah Durfee said.

Another student told the audience that home is not a safe place for many kids and they need options.

Some safe places listed were Young Life, a teen drop-in center in Cloquet, REACH, United Way, City of Cloquet parks, New Wine, 4-H, scouts and local law enforcement.

Adults were empathetic as they listened to the students. They praised them for speaking up and for doing a great job organizing the event.

Esko students Ella Oveson and Allie Radovich said they joined because they wanted to make a difference. They said they were surprised at the level of interest shown by the adults in working with the students.

"All lives are important and should be valued," Nemo Johnson said. The autistic teen said he has also struggled.

One student spoke of being harrassed. She told of attempting suicide and having anxiety and depression issues. After she switched schools, she got the After School app.

The app is specific to the student's school and they need to prove they are a student at that school. After they are allowed to post, they choose an avatar and are completely anonymous. The posts are seen by all of the students.

The student said she received a post that told her to go away; nobody wanted her at the school.

The audience listened raptly. Several adults spoke up and encouraged the student. They told her to ignore the bully and that she was an amazing young woman. Several adults said they were impressed with how smart and well spoken the students were.

"We need an area for kids to go. They took the bowling alley away," Durfee said.

Suggestions were made of a rock-climbing wall or roller-skating park.

The students also asked for more adult support from the community.

They noted that nobody wants to talk about tough issues such as mental illness. Several students expressed disappointment at the lack of communication from their school when a fellow classmate took his life recently. Without clear and uniform communication from the school, gossip and rumours run rampant.

Students invited representatives from the local schools to the event, but none were in attendance. They had also hoped to have a show of support from local business owners, but the only one who showed was from St. Louis County.

Cloquet Mayor Dave Hallback invited the group to speak at a Cloquet City Council work session. Others suggested speaking to the Rotary Club and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The next community dialogue will be Aug. 1 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Cloquet Library.

For more information about REACH, visit reachmentoringprogram.com.

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