Community Alliance for Youth looking to help local teenagers

T his job so far has been a learning experience for me on a lot of levels. I am still getting to know people on a daily basis and I want to thank all of those that have been receptive of me and have introduced themselves. I’d be lying if I said I could remember each and every name that goes with a face, but I’ll get there. I look at the paper after it prints and then see something I don’t like and get frustrated or I wish I would’ve done this or that different.

I still am trying to cram as much news and sports — because what’s a local paper without sports — each week while juggling being a dad and find that happy mix of covering stuff but also where I can actually see my kids. I’ve spent time in the past trying to replicate what Ross Martin did because it works and it gets citizens involved in the community. You are just busy.

Last week I was invited to the Park Hill Community Alliance for Youth (CAFY) luncheon at the Platte County Community Center South location in Parkville, Mo. The invitation was originally sent to Ross and by proxy, I became the one to represent the paper.

As much as I have been learning about the day-to-day operations at the paper, this luncheon became more of an eye-opener than I expected.

The Missouri Student Survey conducted in 2016 for students between 6th and 12th graders showed some numbers that were not only shocking but as dad really kind of made me go ‘wow.’

I think the one that hit me the most was that 12 percent of students in Platte County that took the confidential survey seriously considered suicide. Nine percent had planned suicide and five percent had attempted suicide.

Those numbers got me thinking back and a couple things came to mind.

When I was in high school at the turn of the century, I attended a smaller-ish school near Joplin where we had maybe 500 or 600 kids between 9th and 12th grade. In my four years of high school I couldn’t think of any suicides. I even sent a few text and Facebook messages with old classmates and none of them recalled any.

We weren’t without tragedy as my class had a student die in a car crash and months after graduation another classmate died in a wreck. Since then, a few more of the 136 of my class have passed away.

There was a student in my class my senior year who moved in and was gone almost as quickly it seemed. You know, for the life of me, I can’t recall his name. I wish I could.

But here is what stuck with me. I never talked with him much. I never got to know him.

A few weeks after he moved during the school year, I was reading the local police blotter in the paper. His name was there listed under ‘teenager commits suicide.’ He landed in a town across the Kansas border so I doubt many people in my school even noticed.

Here I sit nearly 20 years later and I have thoughts that keeps hitting me: what if I just asked him how his day was? What if I made some kind of effort to make him feel more welcomed? Would it have given him an outlet he needed? Would he still be here?

I sat at a table with a counselor from a local school district, a youth pastor and a community relations specialist for an insurance company. When talking about issues that we thought were critical, we were in an agreement that suicide is an issue. The counselor pointed out there sometimes are too many students in need and not enough help.

Other numbers in the survey showed that 19.7 percent were sad, 12.1 percent felt hopeless about the future and 28.4 percent were irritable over the past month.

The numbers of those with depressive symptoms has risen since 2014 in Platte County and 1 in 5 students reports not having adults in their life they can turn to when things feel overwhelming.

I try to keep an open line of communication with my daughter, but given she is 14, that is a battle that isn’t easily won. Riley is still adjusting to the KC area. Her mom, stepdad and brother moved here in July and she started her freshman year in school with 2,000-plus kids. That just boggled my mind.

But, I have spent countless times telling her to call or text. Being a teenager is so much harder now then when I was younger, or so it seems.

This coalition is focused on current youth trends and risk factors such as substance abuse, tobacco usage, alcohol usage and bullying to name a few.

The group wants the public’s help and input. That meting was the first of many scheduled. The next is on March 28 in Parkville and the organization welcomes volunteers with a passion for youth and community to attend.

As we learned in the luncheon, the more ‘fences’ we have in place to help teenagers the better. Because, each ‘fence’ that is there, the chances of falling off the edge decrease.

Cody Thorn is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at Follow him on Twitter:  @Citizen_CodyT.