Local youth group recognized in DC for efforts fighting teen substance abuse, suicide
OGDEN — Avery Kane is part of a community effort to prevent suicide and substance abuse among her peers.
As president of her youth group at Weber Communities That Care, the 16-year-old recently got to go to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the coalition to accept the Blue Ribbon Award from the White House at the National Youth Substance Use Prevention Summit.
The Blue Ribbon Award, sponsored by the National Coalition Institute and funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, recognizes groups across the nation for their contributions to substance use outcomes and the impactful changes they’ve helped foster in their communities.
“It was a really fun trip,” Kane said. “I sat on a panel with other youth and answered questions about what we do and what we’ve done to help the youth in our community. We got outstanding numbers and some really high percentages and ended up getting a grant, so it was really exciting to be there for that.”
Kane said Weber County has one of the highest suicide rates among youth. She thinks some of the reasons include because kids feel like they don’t fit in or because communication breakdown in families.
“I speak a lot about family dinners and how important they are,” she said. “Even if you get dinner and sit down and watch TV together, you’re still there as a family and you know you’ve got that family support. We also really encourage kids to get involved in school activities as much as they can, because when you’re in a group or a club, you have that sense of belonging and that’s so important.”
As a member of the coalition, Kane said the group watches for signs of possible suicide ideation among their peers and tries to intervene and get them help.
“We’re kind of the eyes and ears in the school and we learn the warning signs. So if we spot them or someone starts to talk about it, we’ve learned how to deal with it and what to do,” she said. “Last year, we really focused on suicide prevention and this year with anxiety being so high, we’re really trying to focus on mental illness and getting kids the help they need.”
Madeline Robles, Weber Communities That Care coordinator, said the coalition’s geographical area is the “Weber Cone,” meaning they work with the Weber School District’s boundaries drawn from Weber High School. The group works with law enforcement, health care professionals, United Way of Northern Utah, Parents Empowered and many other local organizations.
“We are the voices of change in our community,” she said. “We really focus of promoting mental health and transitioning away from suicidal ideation and we try to prevent underage alcohol, tobacco and vaping use among other substances such as prescription drug abuse and illicit drugs.”
Robles said the coalition works at building protective factors in a child’s life to reduce those risks. She said the Blue Ribbon Award is an honor.
“We were one of 15 coalitions to receive the award. This year is the 25th anniversary of the drug free communities grant program, so we also received a grant. It ended up being the perfect storm for us,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience for us — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and we will continue to work on making a positive impact on our community.”
Kane said she will continue to encourage her peers to get involved, talk to someone they can trust and find professionals to help them through their struggles.
“I’m in about 12 different activities at my school,” she said. “So I know a lot of people and try to stay really connected with everyone that I can. I think peer support is really important, but I also feel like parents should really be involved in their kids’ lives. Know what’s going on with them, what they’re doing and how they’re feeling, and just be involved.”