Avenue A, Grapevine work to provide support for youths

  • Jacqueline Roland at Avenue A Teen Center in Antrim. STAFF PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

  • Jacqueline Roland at the Avenue A Teen Center in Antrim. STAFF PHOTO BY BEN CONANT—

  • Emily Read Daniels COURTESY PHOTO—

  • Grapevine Executive Director Melissa Gallagher at Hancock Town Meeting in 2020. STAFF PHOTO BY BEN CONANT—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/21/2022 3:17:15 PM

First of a series looking at the state of mental health and well-being for children and teens in the Monadnock region. 

According to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in August, New Hampshire ranks second in terms of overall child well-being, behind only Massachusetts. 

One of the categories used to measure states in the study was “family and community.” Emily Read Daniels, author of “The Regulated Classroom” – which explores the conditions for creating “felt safety” in classrooms – and former counselor at ConVal High School, said family and community are key factors in determining a child’s wellbeing. 

Read Daniels specializes in what is known as Trauma Incident Stress Management (TISM), which she said was gaining traction prior to the COVID pandemic. Read Daniels resigned from her position as a counselor at ConVal five years ago and is now engaged in trauma-informed school consultancy work.

“Trauma-informed therapy is a way of thinking about human experience and behavior, and I was trying to practice from that paradigm at ConVal,” she said. “We’re very accustomed to believing punishment is a way to reshape behavior. That’s our culture. We believe behavior is a choice and to change it we need to deter it.”

The best way to work with a traumatized child, and others experiencing anxiety, Read Daniels said, is to work with the adults in their lives.

“If the adults aren’t accustomed to the most-healthy patterns of relating and functioning, that can have a dramatic impact on children,” she said. “There is an absence of meaningful support for adults who are struggling. Again, everything is so individualized. They get a diagnosis, or they get medication. They’re referred to a doctor or mental health therapist. Unfortunately, those interventions are limited in their effectiveness to make meaningful change in that person’s life.”

National, state and local statistics 

In the Data Book, family and community scores across the country were measured by looking at the number of children in single-parent families, children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma, children living in high-poverty areas and teen births per 1,000. Data in the survey was supplied from the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Survey of Children’s Health. 

New Hampshire ranked second in markers of family and community health, but the survey found that the number of New Hampshire children living in single-parent families is rising, reaching 29 percent in 2020, up from 27 percent between 2009 and 2012.

While the Granite State ranked second in the nation in terms of overall child well-being, it was seventh for child and teen deaths per 100,000 for individuals ages 1 to 19.

The nationwide figures show an increase in the child and teen death rate across the United States, with 2020 having the highest rate since 2008. The rise reflects increases in drug overdoses and in homicides, particularly in large urban areas, according to the data.

The survey also shows that there was a 4 percent increase in anxiety and depression — from 14.4 percent in 2016 to 18.4 percent in 2020 – with a 27.8 percent change from 2016 to 2020. During that same time period, youth anxiety and depression rose by 50 percent in Massachusetts (the state ranked first overall for children’s well-being), and by 40 percent in Vermont, compared to 70 percent in California.

The Monadnock Community Hospital’s (MCH) Community Health Needs Assessment, which assesses various health needs throughout MCH’s coverage area, found that median incomes are strong in the Monadnock service area at $75,683 and poverty rates are slightly lower (6.4 percent) than the Hillsborough County average (7.8 percent). By town, the assessment found high poverty rates in Jaffrey (8.7 percent), Rindge (7.8 percent), Peterborough (7.5 percent), Greenfield (7.3 percent) and Antrim (7.3 percent). Poverty rates were the lowest in Hancock (1.6 percent), Francestown (3.7 percent) and Sharon (3.8 percent).

The number of single-parent households in the Monadnock service area was high at 30.9 percent. The assessment also stated that single-parent households may indicate a vulnerable population, which may experience a lack of child care options and/or a single source of income, contributing factors to the cycle of poverty which mental health experts say is connected to anxiety and depression in children.  

Efforts in the region

One of the more-successful programs that Read Daniels said she knows of has been The Grapevine’s Avenue A Teen + Community Center in Antrim.

“I fully credit that to Jackie (Roland),” she said. “Jackie is a community-minded individual who has a beautiful love for the children. She has developed highly engaging programing for the kids and she loves the children, and she has built a whole community around that and that has a positive ripple effect into family life, into community life.”

Jacqueline Roland started at The Grapevine Family & Community Resource Center, a family resource center in Antrim, as an intern six years ago and today serves as Avenue A Teen Center’s community center coordinator. Grapevine is one of 18 family resource centers in the state, which includes The River Center in Peterborough. 

Avenue A was a community initiative started by parents and community members who felt the need for a gathering place for service opportunities for youth, Roland said, adding that one thing making it special is that it is the only teen center in the state that is embedded in a community resource center.

“This gives us a wonderful depth as an organization to serve youth and to look holistically at their families,” Roland said. “It allows us to better understand how we can support them from a multigenerational perspective.”

Avenue A’s program model is relationship-based, Roland said, and run with volunteers from the community who serve as mentors. Over 40 volunteers help run the weekly programs, and many have been part of program for years.

“That’s what we do. We want to get to know their stories and their dreams and challenges and how we can walk alongside them in that,” she said.  “Being a part of the network that The Grapevine is is so helpful for us to provide the depth of service we can give.”

Grapevine Executive Director Melissa Gallagher points out that there is a lack of child and teen mental health supports across the state.

“There’s no doubt about that,” she said, adding that part of the advocacy effort for Grapevine is getting mobile health and  mental health crisis units back to this region. “Monadnock Family Services have many many people who want their services and only so much capacity. They are the community mental health provider for this region. We need more funding and legislative willingness to put those supports across the state, and this region is no exception.”

Gallagher, who holds a bachelor’s degree in human development and family relations and a master’s of business administration in health and human services, is responsible for The Grapevine’s finances, day-to-day management and operations, as well as the overall well-being of the staff and organization. She also represents the organization on several statewide groups, including as a board member of Family Support New Hampshire and a member of the New Hampshire Wellness and Primary Prevention Council.

Handling crises from a family and community perspective

The Grapevine, whose mission is to promote family and community health and well-being through support, education and the sharing of resources, serves the towns of Antrim, Francestown, Hancock, Bennington, Hillsborough and Deering.

As part of its role and roots in the community, The Grapevine convenes groups throughout the year focusing on specific needs and issues. They handle crises in their communities, including suicide, Gallagher said, by brining people together. This was the case in 2019, she said, when The Grapevine stepped even deeper into the work of supporting the work of mental health following the death of a student by suicide.

“We convened a community forum about two weeks after her passing in partnership with her family,” Gallagher said. “Her family came to us and gave us their blessing to move forward with this because they wanted to prevent this from happening to anyone else.”

More than 100 people came together at the Antrim Town Hall, and a discussion ensued that revolved around what types of supports are needed to hold young people, Gallagher said.

“It wasn’t just about preventing suicide, raising awareness and bringing more education, but how to ‘hold’ young people that are impacted by suicide,” she said, explaining that following the discussion, she and Roland were trained in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) New Hampshire Connect Program in Suicide Prevention. “Anyone can take this training, and we’re committed to offering it throughout the community. Another piece of the response following our discussion was the formation of an Avenue A’s group to discuss and process loss and how they were feeling.”

Roland believes the biggest strength of Avenue A – which serves more than 300 youths starting in fifth grade and extending to “gap year” high school graduates from more than 15 towns in the Monadnock region – is that the support provided often happens organically.

“The heart of our schedule is after-school and evening enrichment programs focusing on core areas of creative expression, wellness, social development and career and life skills,” she said, adding that the goal is to promote wellness and provide tangible supports in terms of resources for counselors and help finding housing, which she said is a real challenge. “Or it could  be as simple as a teen saying they have an idea to do something and us trying to make that happen."

Some of those things that teens have made happen include a creative writing club funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and a woodworking and carpentry program, as well as pickup basketball and an outdoor adventure group for middle-schoolers. Avenue A also hosts Friday evening drop-in hours and other programs.

Roland stressed that the families and teens Avenue A works with see the support as formative to adolescence. This is especially true, she said, in rural areas where resources are often hard to find.

“Our best marketing, so to speak, is kids telling other kids,” Roland said, adding that new teens often find Avenue A by coming with a friend.

“We have a tagline at Avenue A that it’s a community belonging place,” she said. “We are a place where people belong. That’s the impact of our work, creating a space where young people experience community and feel embraced and seen by their  community and to give back. That’s life-changing for young people. Research shows on  e  factor in resiliency, and it may sound so basic, but having an caring adult in their life is crucial.”

Read Daniels said its efforts like those at Avenue A that are truly community-rooted.

“This is because it’s not just Jackie trying to deliver assistance for a family or helping one kid,” Read Daniels said. “She’s creating a place of belonging. Subsequently that’s having a beneficial impact on the families and the community."

Next: Programs and stories from youths.

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