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HARRISON – On the heels of presenting before the Clare County Board of Commissioners, at the most recent Neighborhood Watch meeting Michelle Neff, MSU Extension educator, brought forward some food for thought in the new year: information about what concerns this county’s young people and their ideas on how to address those concerns. Her presentation was based on the recently compiled needs assessment survey conducted among Clare County teens.
Neff said she has worked with MSU Extension in Harrison for 17 years doing youth programing, primarily with 4-H. At the evening’s meeting, however, she was representing the Clare Community Foundation where she is the Youth Action Council adviser.
“I am also a youth advocate,” Neff said. “I’m a person who really sticks up for kids and youth, and I like working with youth. I think they have a voice and we have to hear their voices, but sometimes we don’t always know how to do that.”
Neff went on to describe the Clare Community Foundation as having started in 1997 and said that monies donated to the Foundation goes back into various organization within the county with the intent of making Clare County better.
The Foundation gives out scholarships to individuals and grants to nonprofit organizations, and it also has a youth component. Neff said the Foundation has an adult board and a youth board, which is the Youth Action Council whose members come from all three schools in the county making it a countywide organization. She described some of the community service projects the YAC kids do, such as working at the soup kitchen in Farwell, picking up trash around schools and throughout the community.
“They really have the drive to make a difference in their community,” Neff said. “So we do community service and we also learn about philanthropy by giving of our time in service or giving money to a nonprofit organization.”
Neff said the YAC has a youth fund at the Community Foundation, and the Council decides where that money goes. She said she goes to the schools to meet with YAC members, and then the whole group gets together quarterly to make decisions on grants.
The project was spearheaded by the Youth Action Council, Neff said, because part of the guidelines of having a youth council in the community is doing a needs assessment, which ensures grant monies are directed to places it is truly needed.
Neff said that since she has been working in the county, this is the first time a teens needs assessment has been done.
Her data-filled presentation was based on the Clare County Youth Action Council Needs Assessment Survey which was conducted in April/May 2018 among 541students in grades 7-12. The per-school breakdown was Clare High School 123 students; Clare Middle School 4; Farwell High School 139; Farwell Middle School 77; Harrison Alternative Education 1; Harrison High School 167; and Harrison Middle School 28.
A handout with a brief overview of topic areas and related concerns included:
Top Five Issues that Impact Clare County Youth – Stress from schoolwork; Stress from family issues; College/future plans; Pressure to succeed; and Depression/suicidal thoughts.
Top Five Programs and Activities Youth Would Like to See – Competitive sports; Outdoor recreational programs (camping, kayaking, snowboarding, fishing, etc.); Programs to help with job/career; After-school activities; Arts, writing or music-focused activities; and Community service/volunteer activities.
Thoughts on School – School more about learning, preparing for the future rather than simply passing one big test; Feeling welcomed and treated better by teachers in school; and Take bullying seriously, not as a joke because it happens every day!
Changes to Make Life Better for Teens – Get rid of drugs; More jobs; Community Center/place to hang out; Help with living environment; and More peer and family support.
Support Needs – Enough food in the home; Help with anxiety and depression; Adults to actually listen to our problems instead of just pushing them aside; Teach people proper responses to problems; and Support groups and counseling.
A 35-page complete detailing of the students’ responses to various questions revealed their acute awareness of the societal problems faced in the county: problems of drugs and other substance abuse, physical abuse and neglect, hunger, social pressures and injustices, security in a climate rife with school violence, and an awareness of the impact electronic devices have on the ability to maintain an environment conducive to learning. In a community where a staggeringly high proportion of children struggle with hunger, it is not surprising that many of the answers – across multiple categories – spoke to food shortage.
These few excerpted samples of specific survey answers show these teens to have a surprisingly adult perception of what it would take to make those changes a reality (responses are written as supplied in the survey)
If you could make one change that would make things better for teens in Clare County, what would it be?
Drugs (54 responses) – I would make a center where you can get help with drug and alcohol addiction/ Get all the meth heads out.
School (92 responses) – Homework: Less school homework; Bullying: Finding a way to stop bullying/ Bullying be taken seriously and not as a joke because it happens every day! Academic Stress: Honestly, I hate how our school gives us a tremendous amount of stress; Funding: The amount of funding that goes into the schools, education is what changes all things/ Equal funding for all departments and not just focus on sports. Other school concerns included: an awareness of the need for schools to foster positive mental health/ Get treated better by teachers in school so they actually feel welcome coming to school.
Community (58 responses) – A free youth sports center/ More community projects that encourage teens to volunteer or become involved/ a safe place for teens to hang out/ To have more access to activities and to hang out or talk to someone that is there for you/ a place teens can go to talk to people, support groups without crazy expenses, somewhere anyone can go to feel safe and unjudged, allowing the student to feel confidential and private.
Jobs (28 responses) – To have more available good paying jobs for a better future/ More minimum wage jobs and after-school activities for teens so they aren’t walking around bored/ Summer job programs.
Kindness (16 responses) – Teaching common courtesy and common sense/ Be yourself/ For people to speak openly about their feelings
Support (59 responses) – A group that gets together every week to talk about issues going on in their lives with no judgement/ easy therapy access/ to supply all households with enough food and have more food drives/ make sure kids are getting the proper care and be OK/ open up more programs that help teens with their future/ stopping suicide/ Suicide hotline, so many people in my grade are attempting or planning on harming themselves, I feel not all people get help from friends or family/ Maybe try harder to stop bullying
Miscellaneous (56 responses) – I would demolish social media/ social media, there is so much negativity/ people not to have guns in schools or nowhere/ students who hurt others should be punished because it is wrong and leads kids to killing themselves/ Better mental health awareness programs available/ Get rid of standardized testing/ not having to worry about school shootings/ I would change the way people’s points of view are the worst thing about high school, everyone else judging you based on your family or grades/ I would help them with their living environment because many people have bad home lives which influence how they act/ no more DRAMA
When asked what other programs or activities teens would like to see in their community, the sports category drew requests for sports from cricket to rugby to lacrosse to swimming and all interests in between. Also addressed were topics of community or special interest clubs, outdoor clubs and programming, community volunteering, career preparation, educational programs and support groups, and a community center with fun activities.
The final portion of the survey south any additional thoughts that would help to determine how to better support the youth of the community. Responses ranged from adding military pre-training programs such as ROTC/ listen to our concerns and feelings/ let’s work on helping the students who don’t have a good home life and who don’t have support financially and mentally from their family/ Take action.
Reviewing this report makes it apparent that the young people who responded have been paying attention to what goes on around them in their schools and communities, and that the woes addressed show them to be thoughtful and compassionate individuals who believe things truly could be better.