By Phoebe Banks
The goal of Kosciusko Cares Youth Services is simple: to advocate for, support, and promote healthy youth development.
The vision of Kosciusko Cares is to have a safe community with abundant, healthy lifestyle choices, where a sense of pride in children and youth is apparent. It also aims to create a community where education is valued, and together there is support for resilient children and families.
“Our mission is to eliminate substance use among youth. We are all about prevention and helping our youth make healthy choices,” said Director Melanie Wilhite.
She said Kosciusko Cares seeks to build up families, communities and create a sense of hope. This is done by using data to make decisions, such as risk and protective factors and other community data.
Wilhite said Kosciusko Cares believes family is the first line in prevention.
“We offer the 14-week and seven-week strengthening families sessions focusing on the risk factor of family conflict,” Wilhite said.
These programs educate parents about the importance of positive parental behaviors and being good role models. This is by being a guide and monitoring their children as they develop and choose their own behaviors and paths in life.
“The children learn about communication, peer resistance, feelings, consequences of substance abuse, anger management, problem solving and dealing with criticism,” she said.
Whilhite said selecting evidence-based programs that are aligned with data helps to bring about change.
“One wrong decision can effect a youth’s future. We work with youth to stop and think about the consequences before using drugs and alcohol. They need to set goals for their future as they can be whatever they want they want to be. The sky is the limit,” she noted.
Kosciusko Cares first targets younger children by using Al’s Pals, said Wilhite. Al’s Pal is proven to develop social-emotional skills, self-control, problem-solving abilities, and healthy decision making in children ages 3-8 years old. Al’s Pals is done throughout the school year in all Head Start classrooms, Pierceton Elementary School’s kindergarten classes, preschool classrooms and New Beginnings Preschool in Milford.
Another of its programs is called Rise Up! “The program is designed for youth where adverse situations, attitudes and behaviors place them at an elevated risk for future behavioral problems,” said Wilhite. “Adverse childhood experiences can overwhelm a child’s coping abilities and have profound effects on their well being.”
Rise Up! teaches coping and social skills to provide emotional support needed to reduce anti-social behavior and rebellious behaviors,” Wilhite stated.
She said by using data from a partnership with LITE Jail Ministry in Kosciusko County, the coalition has determined youth of incarcerated parents pose a greater risk to substance abuse.
“We all work together,” said Tammy Cotton, LITE jail ministry coordinator. “LITE stands for living in transition effectively.”
Kosciusko Cares currently has two media campaigns. One campaign, “Talk they Hear You,” focuses on parents talking to their youth about drugs and alcohol.
“It is so important to have open communication with youth because they will listen,” Wilhite stressed.
“Our positive social norms campaign focuses on positive data,” she added. “We find youth respond to positive data over the negative data.”
For more information, visit www.kosciuskocares.org. Kosciusko Cares is located at K21 Health Pavilion, 1515 Provident Drive, Suite 240, Warsaw. Call (574) 372-3528 to learn more.