Youth group advocates healthy ways to cope in trying times

Vernon. The Vernon Youth Action Group gave a presentation to the Vernon Coalition in their shared mission to address youth substance abuse in the community. Members explained how connection, exercise, fresh air, and healthy eating work relieve stress and reduce the need for drugs or alcohol.

Vernon /
| 19 May 2020 | 10:28

The Vernon Coalition, which is working to prevent and reduce youth substance abuse in the community, heard presentations by the Vernon Youth Action Group at the coalition's first virtual meeting on May 13.

Four members of the youth group -- Rylee Smaldone, Kaitlyn Buurman, Lorraine Austin, and Dylan Mann -- talked to around 25 coalition members in recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. Kaitlyn said the four students represent a large group of high school students whose mission is to reduce youth substance abuse in their community.

During April, she said, they advocated healthy ways to avoid alcohol abuse, including a virtual pen-pal project for young people who need someone to talk to. In May, they began the campaign #ItsOkayToNotBeOkay, which focuses on those struggling with mental health issues, especially during the trying quarantine era.

Lorraine reviewed the six dimensions of wellness: environmental, emotional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual, along with strategies to improve wellness. Focusing on these dimensions helps build resilience and enables one to thrive throughout life’s challenges, she said.

Dylan discussed the negative and positive aspects of mental health. For example, he said, exercise improves mental health, while smoking harms mental health through addiction to nicotine.

He said abused children are more likely to develop mental health problems that last into adulthood. He explained how abuse affects all parts of the body, including the brain, and even relationships. Abuse causes chronic stress and gives rise to unexplained physical symptoms, he said. Concrete support of needs, therapy, eating correctly, and adequate housing go a long way in helping treat mental health problems, he said.

Rylee said the Vernon Youth Action Group works to raise awareness of the connection of mental health and substance abuse among peers and inside and outside the community. She reviewed healthy coping mechanisms, like fresh air, physical exercise, and healthy eating, contrasting them to unhealthy coping mechanisms – violent behavior, substance use, abuse, and dependence.

Rylee said the group works to inspire teens, teaching them how to handle stress and take positive risks. They will provide a summer mentoring program for eighth graders to become mentors in their action group, and students may attend the Lindsey Meyer Teen Institute (LMTI), a summer leadership program.

In other business:
Summer Expansion Program 2020: Youth Action Coordinator Lisa DeRitter said their Summer Expansion Program 2020, for around 30 students in grades 8 to 12, will offer a series of meetings, programs, and field trips each week. Pending the status of the pandemic, she said, they might meet via Zoom meetings through the summer and into next year.
Virtual Town Hall: DeRitter said the group is planning a Virtual Town Hall meeting, with a special guest speaker, on Tuesday, May 26, at 6:30 p.m. All students' names will be announced, and certificates will be awarded virtually. Parents and children will “take a big picture together,” in order to celebrate -- “even during this pandemic," DeRitter said. She and Vernon Coalition Senior Coordinator Rebecca Dorney sent students more than 400 certificates in preparation for the meeting.
Center for Prevention and Counseling: Becky Carlson, executive director of The Center for Prevention and Counseling, said the center is serving 163 clients virtually through telehealth. Thirty eight of the clients are new as of April. While this is a difficult time for people, Carlson said, early recovery is even more difficult for people without the support systems to which they are accustomed. Over six weeks ago, she said, the Recovery Support people made more than 1,200 calls. They also continue to hand-deliver and mail packages to continue connecting with people.
The C.L.E.A.R line: Carlson said the C.L.E.A.R line (Sussex County Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery) is available 24-7, and counselors are available to serve the community. The C.L.E.A.R line – 1-844-SC-CLEAR – provides support to those struggling with drug addiction without fear of arrest or prosecution. The Center for Prevention website is
In May, Vernon Youth Action Group began the campaign #ItsOkayToNotBeOkay, which focuses on those struggling with mental health issues, especially during the trying quarantine era.