Leeann Grasseth, a “prevention specialist” in the Clallam County Department of Health and Human Services, has been asked to put together a coalition of resources and players to up the battle the many social ills that affect the West End.
Grasseth said the Washington Department of Behavioral Health initiated the new effort, which is modeled on the federal government’s Drug Free Communities program.State officials took a look at each county and picked a community to focus on, Grasseth said.
The “Healthy Youth Survey” conducted in 2010 and the “Clallam County report card for 2010-2011” provide proof of the need:both show the West End has bloated numbers in a number of categories indicating individual and social ill health.
“They funded my position so I can come in and create a strategy,” Grasseth said.
The numbers in the surveys are depressing, showing there were 152 homeless youth on the West End when the “report card” was put together.
Some 67 young people had been taken in for assistance by the state because of child abuse or neglect.Grasseth said that number wasn’t just the highest percentage for a Clallam County community — it was the highest overall number, beating out much bigger Port Angeles and Sequim.
The surveys also showed a higher percentage of youth in the West End had “easy access” to alcohol and that a higher percentage were drinking and driving.
The risk level of “troubled families” was rated “very high,” as was the risk level for economic deprivation.
The West End also had the highest rate of domestic violence in the county.
The school drop out rate for the West End was average, but Grasseth said there’s little reason to celebrate.Countywide the drop out rate is 39 percent, she said.
Answering the call
Grasseth has put together a strategy for improving these numbers, and is working with local resources, including parents, to implement it.
“First, we’ve defined the problem,” she said.“We have alcohol, tobacco and drug use, and we have family conflict.” She added that there is also an issue with “community norms,” which stems in part from a lack of a sense of community.
The strategy, she said, is to create positive community norms.
Toward that end, she plans to establish a “reader board” — an easily modifiable billboard —where positive messages will be posted. She is currently working with Linda Middleton and Concerned Citizens on the project. Though an agreement hasn’t been finalized, the board may end up on the Concerned Citizens’ property across the street from Forks Outfitters.
The sign would be used for positive messages, such as “Most parents don’t approve of alcohol use by their children.” Or it could be used to recognize individual youth for special achievements, or to promote community events designed for families.
She’s also working with others in the community, including Forks Police Chief Rick Barts, who has suggested a Forks clean-up program. The program might include awards and recognition for those who do the best job. “It’s a great idea,” Grasseth said.“And they get attached to the community.”
Grasseth is also discussing with local pastors the possibility of creating a mentoring program “similar to Big Brother or Big Sister.”
Grasseth’s budget is small — which is to say, nearly non-existent. The state has allotted just shy of $28,000 to pay Grasseth to coordinate the effort, but has provided no program funding.Action plans “have to be self-sustaining,” which means, Grasseth said, utilizing programs already in place.
Grasseth said having very little funding may in the long run prove advantageous.She said similar programs are often started with a big chunk of money, and as a result grandiose plans arise.When the money runs out, the program often collapses.
Grasseth is looking for help. She wants to have representation in the effort from different sectors, including law enforcement, education professionals, parents, students and more.
The new coalition meets at 3:30 p.m. the last Tuesday of each month at the Middle School. All are welcome to join.
For more information, call Grasseth at (360) 565-2608 or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Mark Couhig at email@example.com.