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Youth from the Buena Vista Boys & Girls Torch Club presented the top priorities for Chaffee County youth at the Buena Vista Trustees meeting. From left; Catie Morgan, Julianna Martinez, Emi Brooker, Jeremiah Tremble, and Carter Stromer, with CTC Facilitator Miki Hodge.

In two presentations on May 8 to Salida City Council and the Buena Vista Board of Trustees, a group of Chaffee County fourth-graders through 12-graders spoke up, asking for both communities’ support of their youth. Students presented four major priorities, all of them developed not by adults but by a cross-section of the county’s youth.

The Salida students participate in what the Communities That Care alliance has come to call the Extraordinary Teen Council, which meets monthly. The presentation in Buena Vista was made by the Buena Vista Boys and Girls Torch Club. Both student groups expressed the desire for the communities to work together to improve the youth experience across Chaffee County.

The first of the students’ four priorities is mental health help. Students asked for school classes that would help with stress and anger management, and financial scholarships to help pay for and access private therapy sessions after school. They also asked for in-school mental health clinic days in which they could confidentially access help.

Second on the students’ priority list was specific at-school programs. While school curricula have dropped traditional home economics classes over the past several years, the students resoundingly said, “We want them back. We want to learn how to cook and how to manage finances. We want free drivers education opportunities and more language offerings than just Spanish. We want yoga, training in journaling and more help understanding the dangers of addiction.”

Transportation and access to other youth across the county were listed as the students’ third priority. They asked for transportation or bus routes between Buena Vista and Salida that would connect them to positive activities and locations and give them more time together with other youth.

BV students in particular asked for transportation help so they can get to swimming pools, movie theaters and the new game arcade in Salida. They said they lack transportation to attend things like the Salida Teen Nights or to be able to join hockey games or take instruction at skateboard parks.

Fourth on the students’ self-generated list of priorities was simply having adult support to create more positive activities. Among their ideas: the creation of a Teen Discount Pass to help youth participate locally in rafting, kayaking or climbing (assuming there would be better access to activities with some mode of transportation). They brought up more ideas, such as the formation of a teen cooking class, teen yoga and a lacrosse club.

“I’m so proud of the students for getting together and developing this list on their own,” said CTC facilitator Miki Hodge. “When you hear the needs directly from the students, it really shows you that they sincerely are asking for the community’s support to move toward positive youth behaviors.”

The CTC has had some youth successes this spring. In addition to distributing $9,250 to youth agency efforts through the mini-grant process across Chaffee County, the CTC has supported a teen-organized health resource fair in Salida, participated in Buena Vista Parent Night, and supported a life skills curriculum grant application for Salida Middle School. It has also arranged community forums and speakers for middle and high school health classes aimed at prevention of early use of drugs, alcohol and vaping.

CTC coordinators are in the midst of reviewing the preliminary results from the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Data, which it implemented last fall within county school districts.