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Free Catalyst Conference comes to Owen March 13

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By The Staff

Did you know that each year, nearly 28 percent of all youth under the age of 21 use alcohol? Or that nearly 20 percent of youth aged 12 to 17 received mental health services in the past year?

Did you realize that these two facts are related?

More than 35 percent of youth who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year had also used an illicit drug in that time frame, including alcohol.

Over the past three years, HOPE’s Hands, a community collaboration in Owen County, has focused on creating a system of care for the families of our community that addresses the substance abuse and mental health issues that keep our kids from being successful as they transition to adulthood.

What we’ve learned is that educating our residents to create transformation in community culture is making a real difference for our children, youth and their families.

“There’s an old saying that knowledge is power,” Patti Clark, executive director of Hope’s Hands and coordinator of the Owen County Teen Alcohol Prevention Project, said. “That is so true. Without knowledge you can’t begin to tackle the problems and issues that plague our families and keep them from being healthy.”

On March 13, the collaboration will continue its efforts of educating Owen County with a free community education conference designed to promote the physical, spiritual and emotional health of the community’s residents and to equip them to become catalysts of change. This is the third year the group has sponsored this event and residents of surrounding communities are also invited to attend, understanding that county lines are not fences and problems don’t start or stop there.

The conference is the direct result of two grant-sponsored programs in the community and their efforts over the past three years — Kentuckians Encouraging Youth to Succeed and Owen County TAPP (formerly Teen Alcohol Prevention Project, now Teens Advocating for Positive Purposes). “The people of Owen County want the very best for our children and youth,” Tony Watkins, chairman of Owen County TAPP and Hope’s Hands and regional coordinator for KEYS, said. “Every survey, from the Owen 2020 visioning survey to the MAPP survey completed last year by the Three Rivers Health Department, confirms that we want Owen County to be a place that provides our young folk a good education, spiritual foundation, and recreational opportunities. “

Sponsored by Hope’s Hands Community Partnership and NorthKey along with Northern Kentucky Community Action and the Owen County School System, the conference will feature regional speakers and local youth in a variety of mediums and speaking on a variety of topics from drug and alcohol awareness, to suicide prevention, to bullying prevention, to reading literacy for children. 

 “The topics and the speakers are sure to hit home with those in the audience,” Clark said. “We tried to consider a variety of topics as well as delivery styles to meet the needs of those attending.”

Representative of youth and family-service agencies and organizations will also be in attendance providing information about their services.

Growing out of local efforts to increase mental-health services for children and youth and to decrease substance use among teens, the conference is just one example of the many steps that have been taken regionally to improve the future success of Northern Kentucky’s youth.

The KEYS project is a grant-funded initiative that places a team of mental-health professionals in the schools to address the emotional issues of students.

Across northern Kentucky, there are teams in Carroll, Grant, Pendleton and Owen counties, as well as in Covington. Owen has two teams, one at the high school and one at the middle school.

“The KEYS program has been an integral part of the success of the Freshman Center at Owen County High School,” Joy Roberts, freshman center support person, said. “KEYS provides support and services for the young people with emotional and behavioral issues. I have students in the Freshman Center who cannot focus on academic issues because of the unhappiness and dissatisfaction with school as the result of social issues or home issues that prevent concentration in the classroom.”

TAPP is also a grant-funded project that has spent the last three years addressing underage drinking in the community.

The project has worked hard to provide alternative events and leadership opportunities for students to give them an alternative to drinking.

“We can’t just tell them to say ‘no,’ ” Watkins said. “We must equip them to understand what the dangers of underage drinking are and then give them alternatives – socially, emotionally and intellectually – to not thinking that alcohol is the answer to all the problems and issues in their lives.”

Together, these two programs have provided leadership training to students, offered service opportunities in the community and beyond and provided support in ways students may not have felt they had before.

“That’s why it’s a natural for us to team up for this conference,” Watkins said. “Emotional health issues and drug and alcohol use are often interconnected. To address one, we must address the other as well as all the other issues that come alongside a student and derail their success.”

The Catalyst of Hope conference begins at 10 a.m., with registration opening at 9 a.m. at the Owen County High School. It is open to students in grades K-12 as well as their parents, family members, community leaders and service providers. Lunch and dinner will be provided but registration is necessary. Participants may also register via the Hope’s Hands’ Web site, www.hopeshands.org.

Sessions have been planned for children grades K-5, middle-school students, high-school students and adults, with several workshops offered in each time slot.

About half of those who have registered are children and youth.

“Over the last few days, we’ve had entire families register together,” Clark said. “That’s very enlightening, in this age when we hear that the family is on the decline, to see families coming together, choosing as a unit to be more informed and better educated about the issues that are facing them.”

Another component of this conference is the service-earning aspect.

This is a new component added for this year’s event and builds on the conference theme of “Come Hungry, Leave Hope-Filled: Food for the Mind, Body and Soul.”  “We are partnering with the Disney ‘Give a Day, Get a Day’ project,” Clark said. “Participants can go to www.disney.com and register to be a volunteer at the conference. They’ll have an opportunity to help in some way during the day and then will take part in a ‘Give Back’ project in the afternoon.” 

That project will include packing more than 10,000 bags of food that are given to Owen County students each Friday afternoon to keep them sustained physically throughout the weekend.

“At the end of the conference, we’ll verify these volunteers participated and they will receive a voucher for a free one-day admission ticket to either DisneyWorld or DisneyLand,” Clark said. “This is a great way to encourage families to spend time together in positive ways as well as to increase the knowledge level of all community members about the issues that are important for the future of children, youth and their families.”

It’s not too late to be a part of the conference. Registration will remain open until a maximum of 500 people have been registered. 

“We have more than 125 people currently registered, and have room for more,” Clark said.  “We’d love to have 500 people in attendance at the conference. It’s a great opportunity to participate in a quality conference right here at home. In addition, those attending will have a chance to interact with others who might be encountering similar issues in their lives.”

But more importantly, Clark said, is the idea that it only takes one person to change a life. 

“One day, while doing research online, I ran across a quote that really touched me and made me think about the things I do – or don’t do – everyday,” she said. The quote reads: ‘I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.’ “That’s what this conference is about, doing what each of us can do to change the lives, to create real transformation for those with whom we interact on a daily basis,” Clark said.  “Anyone who has a genuine desire to learn how they can make a difference in the lives of our children needs to attend Catalyst,” Watkins said.