One way to improve health of community: connecting our youth to more adults

Editor’s Note: MAPP,  Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.  

So another round of collecting data on our community is coming to an end for MAPP.  What were the findings? What are those interesting tidbits that surprise, maybe shock us? What were the areas where community perception didn’t match statistical fact?

It may seem like I’m trying desperately here to make data collection sound interesting.  The fact is, when looking at community-wide data, changes over time aren’t usually all that startling.  It may teach us something we didn’t know before, but statistics usually don’t change all that dramatically.

But when we get information consistently, we can start seeing trends.  A statistic going up or down.  Now that can start getting interesting. 

Especially when we pledge to change that trend.

That is what happened back in 2014. After the last round of data collection, the community sat down with the MAPP process and identified the most important issue to address for our community health. At the root of almost any problem, the strength of the family can be the cure. So as Family Well-being became a community health goal, certain pieces of data were singled out to show how well we were doing as a community.

That is the trend we need to be watching.

It isn’t easy to track family well-being, but there are indicators that work like a thermometer for when you are sick. A thermometer may not tell you why you are sick, how you got sick or what to do about it, but it is one indicator of whether or not you are getting better.

One of those indicators of family well-being is seen in how our children grow up. Are they confident and emotionally stable? Are they living in an environment of toxic stress? Do they have people they can confide in or run to when life is too much?  

You can imagine how these questions lead to adults who are healthy and resilient. And you need healthy adults to raise healthy children to create a healthy community. It’s all connected.

That is why one of the indicators of our community health that we as a community decided to monitor was percent of students who feel comfortable seeking help from at least one adult besides their parents if they had an important question affecting their lives.

So what is the trend in this data point?

2011:  86.9 percent

2013:  84.9 percent

2015:  82.8 percent

If this was a thermometer, it would be saying that our temperature is rising. So what can we do about this as a community?

This is one of the frustrating aspects of data. It is just an indicator. It doesn’t tell us if the cause is because parents are pressured to raise kids independently and don’t reach out for social connection for their kids (or themselves?).  Maybe it is a side-effect of the digital divide where kids communicate so much more through social media than adults.  Maybe it’s the fact that people move here and leave behind traditional family connections that could function as that support network.

This indicator also doesn’t tell us how to solve it.  Is it after school activities that we are lacking?  Is it opportunities for intergenerational mixing that we are lacking? Is it a cultural issue?  Is it economic? Is it all of the above?

It is only clear that we need to do something. How can we get our kids more connected to more adults in their lives? How can we support families so they aren’t isolated? The data makes us aware, but it won’t solve the issue for us.

No one organization can solve this downward trend.  No grant will fix it.  This is a community issue and only the community as a whole working collectively can have an impact.  

What part can you play in turning this trend around?  

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.