Knowing that there have been many conversations occurring throughout the valley addressing the health of our teens, I felt the need to quickly produce the next Aspen Connect conversation, Helping our Teens Through Communities and Families, and bring the health professionals of the entire valley together with our local families at the Aspen District Theatre to hear the stories of teens, parents, prevention specialists, youth counselors, juvenile investigators, critical care physicians and health professionals, so that we may get a clearer perspective on the issues teens are facing today in our valley, and how we may best as a community become that village and help them to thrive.
Helping our Teens
Last month, as I began strategizing my next Aspen Connect conversation to take place in the Fall, I couldn’t but help feel this inner drive to do something about the concern so many of us feel for the teens of our valley. For me personally, I have felt frustration in the lack of attention given to the Tesla crash that happened last November where a teenager with four friends in the car swerved off the road near T Lazy 7, careening off the cliff, hitting a tree and landing in the river. Why were there no headlines on the front page of the papers saying, FIVE TEENS MIRACULOUSLY SURVIVED CAR CRASH. Why were there no auditoriums filled with messages from mental health professionals, caregivers, teachers and parents discussing what happened and how this should never happen again? Why was it so damn quiet? As the Aunt of one of the passengers, and the friend of the parents of a few of the other kids in the car, two of whom were badly injured with a shattered arm, broken ribs and broken eye socket and concussion collectively, the others no doubt completely traumatized, I felt the need to use my influence as a local connector and leap into action, putting the rest of my life on hold. But this was not my story to tell, and the children and parents of the incident need more time to get through the surgeries and medical bills before they are ready to talk. However, with three of my own teen boys, I still wanted/needed answers to what programs were in place in our high schools to help teens who are struggling, and either just need someone to talk to, or deeper help to get to the root of their anxieties and possible depression. Someone they trust who is not a parent or teacher. Someone who they feel comfortable visiting on a whim, knowing that the door is always open. The time was now to produce Helping Our Teens Through Family and Community and bring together our community with the ultimate end goal of helping to begin the process of getting answers to my questions. A beginning attempt to change the social norms of our valley and create a more cohesive valley-wide village and to begin to get to the bottom as to why we have been losing so many of our teens, either to wilderness programs and therapeutic boarding schools, or to suicide. An attempt to bring everybody in one room to feel out the climate and begin to get a greater understanding of how we may work better together as a whole and learn from one another.
As I began to line-up the speakers for the panels, I knew I had to bring in the right people that could effectively speak to parents and teens about substance use prevention, and how we may improve the vitality and wellness of our youth. With little preparation time I followed every lead given to me and talked on the phone or went to visit as many people as I could.
Glenwood Springs Prevention Specialist Sonja Linman
One of my most enlightening visits was visiting lead Prevention Specialist for Roaring Fork Schools, Sonja Linman at the Glenwood Springs Middle School. After checking in outside the secured doors of the school, (all Roaring Fork Schools are secure, I can’t for the life of me figure out how and why Aspen is not), I walked into Sonja’s room and immediately felt peaceful again. With the lights dimmed and couches with stuffed animals strewn about, I felt as though I had entered the womb of the school, and as Sonja spoke I realized what a jewel I had just discovered and felt so fortunate that she was going to speak at the symposium about the WHY of all risks and how some kids get stuck, and others don’t.
Along Their Way
I have also spoke with moderator Christina King, Founder of Aspen Strong, and Jamie Blume, Founder of Along Their Way. Also in the conversation was Jamie’s 19 year old son Eli, and together they shared Eli’s story on depression, anxiety and prior substance use.
Jamie spoke of watching Eli at 15 spiral downward, leaving behind his good nature and loving charm. As mentioned on the Along Their Way website, as Eli made more frequent life-threatening choices and withdrew further and further away from the family, Jamie and her husband tried everything they could to help. As parents, they assumed they had the tools to “make it better.” They did not. So, in December 2015, they faced what turned out to be one of the hardest decisions of their lives and sent Eli “away” to a wilderness treatment program. The worst—and the best—decision of their lives.
For those struggling, and for their families, the path towards “healing” feels overwhelming, draining, and lonely. But rather than cast it away, Jamie, her husband, and her two other children worked together to not only help Eli, but to heal the entire family and bring it back together.
It was this experience, along with her education and professional qualifications, that led Jamie to form Along Their Way. As a trained mentor and a holistic wellness coach, Jamie now supports other parents and families going through similar challenges. Through Along Their Way, Jamie has the opportunity to help parents navigate the daily needs associated with a child in crisis or treatment and young adults struggling with difficult challenges and life circumstance. She hopes to inspire all her clients to cultivate change through self-awareness and live a life that honors their values and passions.
It was heartwarming to hear Jamie express her happiness of having Eli back home and thriving, and to hear Eli exuberantly and passionately share pieces of his journey towards wellness and the importance of self compassion, self awareness and how opening up to others serves as the anchor and key to resilience. Eli now talks with anyone who will listen, including cashiers at 711, “Showing that side of myself, helps me to help myself.” As a mentor, Jamie speaks to how to detect for cries for help, and how to notice when children are making different choices and pulling away. Eli will teach us how to have more compassion for ourselves and the importance of developing a skill set to cope when struggling.
Christina and I also met with Catherine Adams, Photographer and Founder of Aperture of Hope (top photo) and her 14 year old daughter Ashley, who will be part of the conversation sharing both of their stories. Ashley, bravely sharing her own journey as a child with a sister facing addiction and how having friends that she trusted to talk to changed her feelings of being all alone with her fears and concerns. Catherine speaking of how it wasn’t until she developed breast cancer two years after beginning the journey to help their older daughter Emily with her addiction, that she found the support group she was missing.
When I spoke with EB Nix, the Family Engagement Coordinator/Child Welfare Caseworker for Pitkin County’s Adult and Family Services Department, I was amazed by her strength. Becoming an alcoholic at age 16, EB navigated herself through college, grad school, and then on to Aspen where she went sober and began her work as a caseworker. EB’s will teach us that we are all worthy and that the hardest relationship to nurture is the one with yourself.
Aspen Family Connections
Meeting with Katherine Sand in her Aspen Family Connections office in the Aspen Middle School, we spoke of the programs she continues to put into place for the family and her outreach to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Marijuana Episodes in ER
Speaking with Dr. Ben Peery, Critical Care Specialist at Valley View, he spoke of what he is seeing in the emergency room with our teens, and how much of it revolves around marijuana.
Stepping Up to to be the Parent
I also met with Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and felt empowered as a parent to continue to stand up and say no when feeling pressured by my boys. I hope to empower other families to also step up and learn how to set boundaries and hold true to their stance and expectations. I also hope that we as parents will learn how to become more mindful and purposeful with our children, and to lead from a place of intention rather than one from fear of being met with anger and resistance. As much as kids need to have the freedom to explore their horizons, they also need boundaries, guidance and consistent rules and consequences in that process.
Culturally, the pendulum has swung from focusing on children’s behavior (in previous generations) to focusing on children’s emotions (today). With this, however, there has been an exponential rise in anxiety disorders in children and teens. Although it’s extremely important for children’s emotions to be heard and validated, a parent still needs to be in charge to create a secure and stable environment for their kids. In particular, parents are responsible for setting boundaries in the household, in order to foster an environment where their children can be heard, but also encouraged to develop patience, self-awareness, and so on. ~ Mind Body Green
Aspen Connect Sponsors
The immediate participation and outreach from our local high schools and non-profit organizations who jumped in to sponsor the events and help our teens, has been an enlightening experience. I truly thought that I might be soloing this due to my last minute planning but thankfully was proven so wrong by our incredible community. Colorado Audio Visual, as they have done in the past, will be recording and broadcasting the event live, and The Aspen Times is a media sponsor. Other sponsors include; Along Their Way, Aspen Youth Center, The Hope Center, Aspen Strong, FirstBank, Heather Rose Cramer, P.C. Attorney at Law, Blend Web Marketing, Family Resource Center, Stepping Stones.
It Takes a Village
What I hope to achieve in this symposium is for our community to understand the true depth of what we are facing with the health of our teens in our valley, and the infrastructures in place providing help for those families and youth who need it. For our youth, I hope that they will learn the importance of self-awareness and not keeping it all inside, but rather communicating their concerns and anxieties with those they trust, and to realize that there is help in our valley to teach them coping mechanisms that will lead them away from substance use, unhealthy practices, or highly addictive device usage for their escape. I hope that this is the start of us all working better together as that village.
I have seen in action how incredible the people of our valley are, but now I am witnessing it for myself. Absolutely nobody should ever feel as though they are alone. Not in this valley. This Symposium is a true testament to how our community rallies when they hear the call for help. All one has to do is put the message out there to the right people, the ones you will be meeting on May 20th.
Aspen Connect Ambassadors
All high school students are invited to become an Aspen Connect Ambassador and sign up to volunteer at the Aspen District Theatre on the evening of May 20th, for the Aspen Connect symposium, Helping Teens Through Family and Community.
In addition, we are looking for a few students from every high school in the valley to be included in a short film we are making where students will have the chance to voice their concerns and possible solutions that they think could help our teens.
To sign up contact Jillian Livingston at [email protected]. Ambassadors will be asked to meet and greet guests and attend the symposium (they will receive a total of 4 volunteer service hours + more for recruiting others). This will be an excellent community service to add to your portfolio, not to mention an extremely informative evening for all.
Aspen Connect Registration
Click here to view the event invitation.
Aspen Connect Complimentary Tickets
Please note that ages 13-21 are free (not recommended for kids under the age of 13). Complimentary ticket are also available for health professionals, teachers and families in need. Click HERE to get your tickets (must be reserved in advance).