Adolescent program a safe haven for students

By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer

High School students in Dubois County have been bringing their personal problems — including difficulty connecting with their peers, issues related to transitioning from middle school to high school, poor communication skills and teen pregnancy — to high school Teen Wellness Centers for the past 18 years.

Though the teen programs, run by Tri-Cap, were completely funded by the federal government for many years, last school year, the government began requiring Tri-Cap to match 30 percent of the funding received through the grant.

Adolescent program coordinator Christine Vinson said that Tri-Cap decided to host one large fundraising event this year to raise money and awareness of the program, which served 880 different students last school year.

Tri-Cap will host a basketball game with the Harlem Ambassadors on Thursday to help it reach most of its 30 percent match, which is $30,000.

The Tri-Cap Adolescent Services program was formed in 1994 to respond to a high number of teen suicides that had recently taken place within a short time period. The program, intended to provide free access to health services for teens, was completely funded by a federal grant for many years.

The adolescent program comprises three main parts: Teen Wellness Centers, a Natural Helpers group and Question, Persuade and Refer suicide awareness presentations.

Vinson and adolescent counselor Paige Mundy spend two days a week in local high school Teen Wellness Centers. Each of the four Dubois County high schools has a staffed Teen Wellness Center three days per week. On the third day, registered nurse Keri Barrett is present in the schools to provide basic sick care to the teenagers.

The counselors deal with a wide variety of teen issues.

“They may come in for anything from a headache or stomachache all the way up to if they need to sit and talk about anything stressing them out or bothering them,” Vinson said. The counselors offer advice and a listening ear for students dealing with family issues, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, peer bullying and teen pregnancy.

Each student who comes to the wellness center is first asked to complete a questionnaire that allows Vinson and Mundy to learn more about risky behaviors the student might participate in.

Most of the issues the counselors attend to are kept completely confidential, Vinson said, except in matters of abuse, pregnancy, rape or possible suicide. Students may choose to come to the wellness centers on their own as long as they have a signed permission slip from a parent, or a teacher, parent or administrator may refer them to the counselors.

“We have some students that come in for several things. We really want to try to get those students to learn some coping skills so that they can start solving their issues on their own because they’re not going to be in high school forever,” Vinson said.

Recently, an 18-year-old pregnant student who was not receiving proper prenatal care began using the wellness program. The counselors informed her about Medicaid and assisted her with the application, referred her to breast-feeding and childbirth classes and met with her every other week for prenatal education.

Vinson estimated that she, Mundy and Barrett see a total of about 150 students a week at the wellness centers.

In addition to helping troubled students, the Tri-Cap counselors also meet monthly with a group of students known as Natural Helpers.

The students of each Dubois County high school are surveyed at the beginning of the year and asked to identify two students with whom they are comfortable talking about their personal problems. The top 20 students from each school are chosen to attend a retreat where they learn listening and helping skills from Tri-Cap staff members.

“It’s a diverse group of students that is chosen,” Vinson said, adding that these students become available to their peers for help throughout the school year.

The third component of the program is the QPR training. Each school year, Tri-Cap staff members present suicide awareness resources and facts to the entire student body at each of the high schools.

“We go in and talk to the kids about signs and symptoms they can recognize with their friends if they are suicidal and what they can do,” Vinson said. “We make sure they understand that is not something that they can keep to themselves.”

Ambassadors game

The Harlem Ambassadors professional entertainment basketball team will compete with the Tri-Cap Troopers on Thursday to benefit the Tri-Cap Adolescent Program. The game begins at 7 p.m. at Huntingburg Memorial Gym.

Advance tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and are available at any Tri-Cap or Dubois County German American location. Tickets also may be purchased at the door for $12 for adults and $10 for students. Children 5 or younger get in free with an adult ticket purchase.

The Tri-Cap Troopers will be coached by Jasper Mayor Terry Seitz and will feature local business owners and Tri-Cap staff. Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner will referee the game.

Concessions will be available for purchase, the Ambassadors will sign autographs after the game and the game ball will be raffled.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.




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