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Healthy youth strategy created

Small-town life may not keep island youth on the edge of their seats, but youth programs, activities and services would help these kids pass long summer hours and dark winter afternoons if they would only tap into these community recourses. The City of Oak Harbor hired Oak Harbor resident Jennifer Fuentes in February as the city’s Youth Services Coordinator to try and see how youth could better access local services and programs, become more aware if upcoming events and help generate a more involved and healthy youth demographic in the community.

To help create a strategy, Fuentes said she has utilized the city’s Healthy Youth Survey compiled by the City of Oak Harbor, the Oak Harbor School District and the North Whidbey Youth Coalition.

Lisa Yeager of the North Whidbey Youth Coalition said this is the third Healthy Youth Survey taken in Oak Harbor since 1999. The questionnaire is given to sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade students throughout the Oak Harbor School District.

Fuentes said she has gone through the Healthy Youth Survey, analyzed the survey’s results, made a list and summary of youth needs and is working with several teams to create strategies and ways in which to fill these needs.

Projecting problem areas

Fuentes said the majority of the survey’s information she has chosen to project to the community tends to be the negative because these are the issues the city is trying to remedy.

“We’re pulling out the negative just to say, ‘what is it that we need?’” she said.

She added, however, that the Oak Harbor Youth Survey results were on an even plane with the state’s Healthy Youth Survey, and she said she hopes that when youth service organizations in Oak Harbor start to deal with the larger negative issues the survey revealed, they would not blow them out of proportion before the public.

“Don’t take this as Oak Harbor’s youth are just dying,” Fuentes said of the survey’s negative results. “It’s not that.”

She said even though it is her job to take the negative survey projections and present them to the city, along with a plan to remedy these areas, she does not want to project a skewed image of youth to the community.

“This is just a sample — just a few of the questions,” Fuentes said of the survey results for negative issues. “The test is over 230 questions and on almost every question we’re in comparison to the state. We’re on line; we’re doing good. What we’re just doing is pulling out what’s negative just so we can target that. It’s not that the negative is overshadowing the positive.”

Fuentes said that the results of the survey actually showed a higher survey outcome for the positive than the negative.

“For the most part, our youth are as healthy or healthier than the state average,” Yeager said.

With this in mind, Fuentes said the next step is to try to fix the problem areas youth deal with, without underestimating the gravity of these areas.

“We did find out that there is a high rate of depression,” she said.

She said the survey also showed that local youth feel a lack of connection with other youth in the community and feel like the community as a whole cares little for them.

To try and remedy these areas, Fuentes said she has helped to create a youth council, comprised of 15 youth from a variety of grades, ages and schools; a community youth alliance, comprised of community services, individuals, organizations and businesses involved with youth; and a youth advisory board, made up of appointed officials, which acts as a steering committee for community youth outreach.

Fuentes said these committees will help her meet the city’s goals of fixing the negative issues pinpointed through the Healthy Youth Survey.

Implementing assets

Another of Fuentes’ main goals as youth services coordinator is to get local youth organizations, services and workers to commit themselves to the implementation of “40 Developmental Assets” compiled by the Search Institute, an organization dedicated to practical research that benefits children and youth, which in turn helps create healthy communities.

“We all know kids must have some attributes, security and relationships to become healthy and productive individuals,” Fuentes said. “These 40 attributes takes the common sense and lists them.”

The list of assets is broken up into external assets and internal assets. External assets include items such as family support, boundaries, creative activities, role models, resources, religious community, time at home and caring community influences.

Internal assets include traits such as responsibility, resistance skills, motivation, equality, integrity and sense of purpose and future.

“The more assets they have the more likely they are to participate in the community, do community service, get good grades,” Fuentes said.

She said her goal is to get the community to commit to providing and assisting Oak Harbor youth to acquire as many of these assets as possible.

Peggy Stanford, the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Island County, said BBBS has always been based on values such as the 40 Developmental Assets and will support the city’s and other youth organizations in implementing them.

Stanford said BBBS is already showing their volunteers the 40 Developmental Assets during training times and encouraging their volunteers to help children gain as many of these assets as possible.

“What we want to do is incorporate them into everything,” Fuentes said. “What we want is the community to embrace them — embrace youth as a whole.”

Fuentes said programs alone cannot replace the power of a community that is committed to raising positive youth.

Stanford also said she hopes the survey and assets create an awareness in the community that adults need to become aware and active participants in the lives of local youth.

Fuentes said youth service programs and organizations provide a wonderful service for Oak Harbor, but that they cannot progress alone.

“It just makes for a better community when we build these assets into kids,” she said.

Fuentes said the community will benefit if it deals with the issues brought up by the Healthy Youth Survey, implements the 40 Developmental Assets and commits to assist youth in becoming quality individuals and citizens.

“My job is so much more than services,” Fuentes said. “It’s more of a movement to get the community to say, ‘We want a healthy community. We want healthy kids.’”

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