Without funding, Teen Wellness program ends

Herald Staff Writer

The Teen Wellness Center program will end at all four Dubois County high schools because of a lack of grant funding.

Joyce Fleck, director of Tri-Cap, which operated the centers, sent a letter to each of the superintendents explaining that the organization would no longer be able to provide the two counselors and nurse to staff each school several days per week. The three employees rotated among the high schools, assessing 879 different students and performing 2,594 follow-up visits during the 2012-13 school year.

The program was formed in 1994 to provide free access to health services for teens and was completely funded by a federal grant that was funneled through the state for many years. During the 2011-12 school year, the state began requiring Tri-Cap to match the $100,000 grant with $30,000 locally.

High school students talked to the counselors about a range of issues — including peer relationships, drug and alcohol use, family conflicts and teen pregnancy.

Fleck said she was shocked that the state pulled funding for the program. Earlier this month, she addressed the Dubois County Commissioners to ask them to allocate $10,000 of their budget to Tri-Cap to help meet the match requirement. She has since withdrawn her request.

“We’re all very sad and very concerned,” Fleck said this morning, adding that she wants to keep the Teen Wellness counselors on staff, but without the federal money, the schools would have to pitch in thousands of dollars. Currently, Fleck is waiting for the school corporations to decide whether to hire a new counselor on their own, give money to Tri-Cap to maintain the positions or go without counselors.

“We’re still willing to help support with any direction of program (the schools) take,” she said. “It’s going to be a wake-up call for the schools. I think they’re going to need more staff. It’s a lot of staff time to be absorbed.”

At the monthly Greater Jasper School Board meeting Monday evening, Superintendent Tracy Lorey lamented the loss of the program. She said Jasper High School should be able to withstand the loss, at least for this coming school year. The corporation hired former Tri-Cap counselor Leah Tooley as a full-time social worker in 2002 and the high school also employs a full-time nurse.

“I would like to thank Tri-Cap and their staff. They have done an outstanding job for many years supporting our kids here, and it’s just unfortunate that this program has fallen victim to funding cuts like so many others that we hear about day in and day out,” Lorey said.

“We’ll just have to see how this year goes and re-evaluate the needs of the programming, and if at some point we feel we need to make a request for additional support in that area, that’s always something that we could bring back to the board at a later time.”

Board President Nancy Habig remembered how the adolescent counseling helped the high school students through a tragic time.

When the county had those four teen suicides in five years, she said, providing adolescent counseling “was one of the very positive community responses,” Habig said. “It’s going to be a hole. I hope that our own employees are able to pick up that slack. They’re already pretty overloaded, in my estimation.”

At Southwest Dubois School Corp., the termination of counseling services has forced the board to seek applicants for a social worker position. The corporation employs one full-time nurse for all four schools, and she usually is able to make it to Southridge High School only once a week. Superintendent Mike Eineman is hopeful that a dedicated social worker will alleviate the school’s need.

“It will have a big effect on our students because we used (Teen Wellness) quite a bit. They were in our building four days a week,” Eineman said.

“They did a lot of counseling and just listening to kids because they may have had issues at home or at work.”

Southeast Dubois School Corp. employs one nurse for the entire corporation and one social worker at Forest Park High School. Northeast Dubois High School has a school psychologist and a nurse on staff. The superintendents could not be reached for comment this morning.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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