Celebrating Healthy Communities helps young people, families thrive

San Juan Basin Health’s mission is to protect human and environmental health and inspire well-being in the community. How does one go about “inspiring well-being”?

One way we pursue this is collaborating with local organizations and entities to address health issues confronting our community. A next step is creating solid partnerships that allow for changing needs. Celebrating Healthy Communities Coalition is a shining example of this. This diverse group of 80 individuals representing varied agencies and organizations meets bimonthly. Formerly known as the Lasso Tobacco Coalition, this group retains many original members. It has expanded during the last five years to include even more community partners as its mission has broadened: to support a healthy community where youths and families thrive.

Celebrating Healthy Communities coalition forms an umbrella for four state, federal and private grant projects with complementary goals.

“We actively support each through outreach efforts, policy initiatives, media campaigns, education and direct services such as youth counseling,” said Pat Senecal, Healthy Policies and Systems director at San Juan Basin Health. She oversees these grants, five staff members and the coalition.

“This coalition and local public-health data guides toward what we work on now and when to start engaging people,” Senecal said. “There needs to be a high interest in the community (via surveys) and high agreement among coalition members that it’s a good thing to do because they actually assist in carrying it forward.” A variety of tools is then used in addressing these identified needs in the community.

A social-norms campaign is launching to reinforce to parents that teenagers do listen to them, even though teens don’t always show it. Parents voicing disapproval of drug and alcohol use is very important to teens when making decisions.

In addition to parents, other adults in our community play a role in building assets for our young people. Developmental assets, positive experiences and qualities that help influence choices young people make form “building blocks” for healthy development. Research shows that the more developmental assets a child has, the less likely the child is to engage in risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse.

To encourage youths to think about the importance of positive role models in their lives, the coalition is sponsoring its second annual Adult Role Model award. For more information about the award, visit sjbhd.org/nominate-an-adult-role-model.

Other ongoing or just completed coalition projects include providing small counseling sessions through the schools for teens to discuss problems or situations and work through them in a supportive, trusting environment and providing support to Southern Ute PeaceJam youths to produce a film exploring differences between commercial and traditional tobacco use. Not only was this movie shown at Durango Film, it provided the final inspiration for tribal elders to enact a 100-foot smoke-free perimeter around the SunUte Recreation Center.

Prevention work is much more than “just say no.” It’s saying “yes.” It’s building a strong foundation from which young people can make healthy decisions and engage in healthy behaviors. It is creating and strengthening partnerships. And it is inspiring well-being. If you would like to join Celebrating Healthy Communities, call Pat at 335-2048.

Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.