Park County, Montana — Schools have reopened months after historic flooding in Montana devastated the small town of Gardiner and surrounding Park County. The start of class not only brings excitement, but also new information about how students’ mental health is impacted in rural communities.
On Saturday, September 24, and Sunday, September 25, 2022, a youth summit will be with eighty teenagers from Gardiner, Park High, Shields Valley, and Arrowhead Schools to help clinicians and educators better understand new rural mental health findings and how to elevate and magnify the voices of Park County’s youth. The event is organized by The Jed Foundation (JED), a leading national nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, community partner LiveWell49 and local school districts.
A recent national survey examined the prevalence of behavioral health problems and corresponding access, or lack thereof, to treatment services in each U.S. state: Montana ranked 44th worst overall and 49th for youth. Complicating the problem are professional workforce shortages for Montanans coping with mental health challenges, especially in remote areas like Park County.
Several community organizations in Park County stepped up to address these disparities, like LiveWell49, resulting in service and support to local youth. A prime example began in 2021 when Gardiner Public Schools partnered with The Jed Foundation as Montana’s first and only JED High School. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is funding this inaugural program to help elevate youth engagement in Park County, with additional support from community partner LiveWell49 to improve the overall quality of life for local residents.
JED Senior Clinical Director Kurt Michael, Ph.D., (available for comment before or after the youth summit) and his team visited Gardiner last month to present initial findings of a March 2022 student focus group in which high school students were interviewed about their emotional well-being and provided feedback on helpful strategies to improve their mental health. Some insights from that research determined:
- The youth were incredibly insightful about their experiences and clearly articulated the complex dynamics they face living in rural Montana.
- The youth expressed a desire to develop a deeper understanding about their well-being and how to help themselves and their peers.
- The youth provided specific, tangible ideas on how to more effectively address their communities’ needs for mental health support.
“Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S., so JED High School comes to Gardiner at a critical time when it is imperative to elevate youth voices and to understand the needs of teens and young adults,” said Dr. Michael. “We are overwhelmingly impressed with the honesty of the students who participated in these focus groups and very much value their insights and perspectives which will create positive change in the community.”
“As a small, rural school district, we conducted more suicide assessments last year than in the previous years combined, and we recognize the need for additional student support services, such as JED, to strengthen our programs, curriculums, and methods in protecting youth mental health,” said Mike Baer, superintendent of Gardiner Public Schools (available for comment before or after youth summit). “This is a critical public health issue in our community, and as a JED High School, we can create an environment where everyone feels healthy and happy.”
“We’re looking forward to hosting the Youth Summit at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch later this month,” said Senior Program Director for The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, Tawnya Rupe Mraz. “Youth development and mental health and well-being are key focus areas for our foundation, and we are proud to have worked alongside LiveWell49, Montana school districts and many other community partners to address suicide prevention in Park County. It’s a privilege to support the work that JED and these organizations are doing to give local youth the opportunity to help guide the choices being made to strengthen their communities.”
The LiveWell49 Coalition is dedicated to embracing a culture of health in Park County through creative community solutions and effective outreach. LiveWell49 acts as the umbrella organization for all entities and individuals working to improve the health of Park County citizens and acts as the hub for all resources and information involved in its mission.
About The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
After more than 25 years and more than $950 million in giving, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is committed to significantly accelerating the impact of its philanthropy over the next 10+ years. The foundation is currently on a journey of deeper learning and strategy setting for its new priority areas: Youth Development, Democracy, Environment, Mental Health & Well-Being and Atlanta’s Westside. Across these portfolios, the foundation will look for opportunities to address the growing crisis of disconnection in our nation. Geographically, much of the work will continue to prioritize Georgia (with a focus on Atlanta) and Montana, while also considering the potential for greater national impact and influence.
In addition to the priority areas of giving, the foundation will continue to oversee a large portfolio of grants including support of essential Atlanta nonprofit institutions, such as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Shepherd Center, and enduring Founder-led initiatives, such as veterans and the military and stuttering, among others. The foundation will also continue to guide the seven associate-led giving committees operating across the Blank Family of Businesses.
Mr. Blank, chairman of the foundation, co-founded The Home Depot, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, in 1978 and retired from the company as co-chairman in 2001.
For more information and to stay up to date, visit www.blankfoundation.org.
About The Jed Foundation (JED)
JED is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. We’re partnering with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems. We’re equipping teens and young adults with the skills and knowledge to help themselves and each other. We’re encouraging community awareness, understanding, and action for young adult mental health.
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Director, Public Relations, The Jed Foundation