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Healthy, Happy Kids Are a Result of Community Effort

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After listening to a presentation about sexual violence in his high school health class, a young man recently spoke up.

“Those of us who aren’t doing this, we need to stand up for victims and shut this thing down,” he said.

It’s something presenter Rebecca Moyes, RN, doesn’t hear very often.

The student’s words filled her with hope.

Moyes and other nurses from Sarah’s Place, the regional sexual assault nurse examiner center at Samaritan Albany General Hospital, have treated students from every high school — public or private — in Benton and Linn counties.

“We don’t want to just keep responding,” Moyes said.

Young people ages 15 to 25 are at the highest risk for sexual violence.

“We’re raising awareness, getting students to realize it’s a problem,” Moyes said. “We want them to grow into the adults who fix this problem.”

They say it takes a village.

That’s why the nurses who care for sexual assault survivors and advocates from the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV) teach sexual violence awareness and prevention in every high school.

Across the mid-Willamette Valley and central Oregon Coast, local agencies and organizations are working together to tackle the most serious issues affecting young people.

That’s why every boy and girl seen at ABC House, the child abuse intervention center in Albany, receives a comforting quilt, handmade with care by a community volunteer.

It’s why school employees, from food service to finance workers, are trained in ways to prevent youth suicide.

It’s the reason the local Pick of the Month Tasting Table program offers children a chance to try rosy radishes and raving rhubarb.

And why preschools through middle schools in Lincoln, east Linn and rural Benton counties are transforming children’s health through CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health), a program promoting increased physical activity and healthy eating in the classroom and at home.

“The health of a community starts with the health of its children,” said Krystal Boyechko, project director with the Samaritan-led Coast to Cascades Culinary Health Education & Fitness (C.H.E.F.) project.

C.H.E.F., which encompasses CATCH, focuses on reaching children and adolescents to prevent obesity.

“Children carry the joy of discovering they like new fruits and vegetables and the fun of taking part in CATCH and activities outside of school,” Boyechko said. “These experiences impact the choices they make regarding healthy foods and physical activity throughout their lives.”

Other community efforts address youth mental health and suicide.

Samaritan partners with the Corvallis School District, Trillium Family Services and Oregon State University’s Counseling and Psychological Services to provide all Corvallis public school staff with QPR training. QPR stands for Questions, Persuade and Refer, three steps anyone can learn to help prevent suicide.

It is as important as staff knowing CPR, and is required annual training for every employee.

“Research supports the connection between student health and learning,” said Gigi Sims, school wellness coordinator with Corvallis School

District. “We believe that our coordinated efforts — school and community — make a difference.”

Suicide prevention is also addressed in Youth First Aid Mental Health classes offered through Samaritan with the support of the Association of Oregon Counties, Mental Health program. This training is open to anyone who works with adolescents. Since 2014, Samaritan has provided Mental Health First Aid training to over 3,000 people, more than any other organization in Oregon.

Through education, the topic of mental health becomes more normalized.

“We see young people who are able to step forward and say they are having a mental health concern,” said Hilary Harrison, health education coordinator for mental health at Samaritan. “Interventions lead to better outcomes.”

Training and awareness is one of the reasons why ABC House Executive Director Jennifer Gilmore-Robinson has good reason to believe that the prevalence of another serious issue — child sexual abuse — is beginning to decrease.

“Part of that is because our community is getting more educated,” Gilmore- Robinson said.

ABC House offers Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse training course.

“Research is showing that we’re on the right track,” she said. “We’re getting educated and talking about it. We’re destigmatizing it. We’re taking practical steps to prevent it.”

Volunteer support is another way the community is involved at ABC House. People hold toy drives, bring in donations and make financial contributions to the center. ABC House receives quilts from numerous groups and individuals in the community.

“All are unique, just like the children who receive them,” Gilmore-Robinson said.

The quilts, toys and journals that go home with children let them know that they are valued. Parents often return years later with stories of how children relate to their quilts, draping them over shoulders like a superhero cape, snuggling into bed at night, taking them on school trips.

“A quilt symbolizes what it means to feel safe and welcome,” Gilmore-Robinson said. “I think of quilts as a hug.”