By Ahmad Allaw, College Student Volunteer, Courier & Press, August 25, 2015 –

Not too long ago, I was sitting in the backseat of the family car, my heart beating excitedly, waiting to reach what I hoped would become my home away from home: college. The experience is, quite literally, a momentous occasion. At roughly 18 years old, we, as incoming college students, begin to write our own stories and chart our own paths.

The first few days are as exciting and enriching as expected. We meet new people and explore new places, dine with friends and hear new stories. The independence is both refreshing and empowering.

However, as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months, the initial excitement wanes and the independence becomes a bit daunting. Soon enough, you may find yourself longing for home.

Getting homesick, of course, is to be expected. After all, moving from one place to another, leaving most of your family and friends, and living on your own is no small change.

However, you — the incoming freshman — don’t want that change to turn into anxiety, and for your anxiety to affect your mental or physical health.

After going through the transition myself, I recommend keeping the following in mind to ease any troubles.

It’s important to realize that, although you may be moving hundreds of miles from family, friends, and home, you aren’t severing any ties. Starting a new chapter of your life doesn’t mean you have to forget all the ones previous.

On the contrary, realize that your present doesn’t exist without your past; you reached the place you reached in large part because of the support of family and friends. Just because you aren’t physically with them doesn’t mean they won’t continue helping when you need help.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that you are likely not the only one who will feel homesick. It is a normal feeling. Almost all of the other incoming freshmen will be in the same position.

Finally, you will have the opportunity to meet incredible people in college, and there will be no shortage of those who share the same interests as you. The easiest way to find such people is through extracurricular clubs and involvement.

Spend time looking at the clubs offered at your school, and you would be hard-pressed not to find something that suits your interests. Soon enough, you will find yourself doing the things you love with people whose company you will enjoy, a second family to ease any burden of longing or homesickness. My closest friends now are the same people that I spent so much time working and collaborating with during the club activities.

For me personally, these small strategies proved invaluable. After the first few weeks of college passed and things became a bit more difficult, I found myself calling my family weekly, talking to them even if just for a little bit. Getting added support, feeling as though someone else is invested in your success, makes you feel more comfortable under academic stress in new surroundings.

And if you find yourself needing support beyond what family and friends can provide, most college campuses have counseling centers experienced in helping students deal with feelings of isolation and homesickness. Seek extra help and support if these feelings start to interfere with your ability to cope with the demands of college life.


By Brooke Skipper, Courier & Press, August 18, 2015 –

It’s August once again, and that means back to school time. Early mornings, structured days, increased activities and mounting homework become your household’s reality.

No matter how many years your child has been in school, transitioning back into the classroom setting can always feel a little chaotic. Minimizing this stress is essential for your entire family’s health and happiness.

Here are some simple yet effective tips to help ease those back-to-school blues.

Be sure your child is in good physical and mental health by scheduling appointments with your family doctor and dentist. Discuss any concerns you have over your child’s emotional development with your pediatrician. Your doctor can help determine if your concerns are age-appropriate issues or require further assessment. Your child will benefit if you can identify and begin addressing a potential issue as soon as it arises.

Establish bedtime and mealtime routines. Routines help reinforce your child’s overall good health. Eating a meal together as a family provides time to reflect on the school day and gauge how your child is coping. If your summer has been largely unstructured, prepare your child for this change by talking about why routines are important.

Familiarize yourself with your child’s teachers as well as other school professionals in the building who can be a resource. This can include the principal and front office personnel; school social worker, psychologist and counselor; the reading specialist, speech therapist and school nurse and coaches and activity coordinators. Youth First Social Workers are available as a resource in over 50 schools in six Southwestern Indiana counties and implement a variety of evidenced- based programs and practices to assist you and your child.

Let your child know you care wholeheartedly and unconditionally. Pay attention to your child’s mood and behavior as school resumes. Make sure to ask open-ended questions about the school day to ensure real communication beyond a “yes” or “no” answer. Praise your child’s effort each day, not the result.

Model positive behavior in your home to increase your child’s healthy coping skills. If there is anxiety about school, reinforce the ability to cope by remaining optimistic and confident in your child. Give your child a few healthy strategies to manage a difficult situation such as talking with someone or journaling.

Remain calm and positive about a new start. Children who have had a difficult time academically or socially or were teased or bullied may be more fearful or reluctant to return to school. Talk about the issues and how things can improve this year. If you have not yet done so, share your child’s concern with the school and confirm that the problem has been addressed. Reassure your child that you and the school are working together to prevent further issues.

Using these strategies in your home can assist your child in feeling more prepared and secure during the return to school. A strong home foundation helps to promote a strong educational foundation. You can directly influence the amount of success your child has at school by promoting a positive attitude, confidence and performance both socially and academically.

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By Parri O. Black, Courier & Press, August 11, 2015 –

Children, teachers, and other school staff are not the only ones going back to school this month. Youth First Social Workers are also back on the job and ready to assist students, families and educators.

Youth First Social Workers are embedded in over 50 schools in six counties in Southwestern Indiana, and a number of other schools in the Tri-State region also employ their own social workers.

School-based social workers provide a link between home, school, and community to make sure the social and emotional needs of children are met. They help students and their families overcome challenges by connecting them to community resources and developing critical life skills.

Any teacher will tell you that many of their students come to school with issues that create barriers to learning. One child may have basic needs (food, clothing or shelter), and another child may have behavioral concerns (depression, anxiety or substance abuse).

In simple terms, social workers assess needs, develop plans and provide services addressing those needs. Youth First Social Workers are equipped with a tool kit of proven strategies designed to build skills and prevent problems.

For example, they help students learn how to respond to stress using coping skills, how to successfully manage conflicts and solve problems and how to set and complete goals.

School-based social workers also make referrals to community resources; consult and collaborate with educators, parents and service providers and provide immediate assistance in crisis situations.

Anyone can refer a student or family to a Youth First Social Worker. Students can even refer themselves or their friends.

Some of the most common reasons for seeking assistance are depression, anxiety or anger issues, school behaviors, home life or parent/child concerns, peer relationships, divorce or grief adjustment or substance abuse concerns.

The sooner these problems are addressed, the more likely a child will be successful in school and eventually in life. Last year, Youth First Social Workers provided prevention education and skills development for over 17,000 students. Of those, nearly 3,000 received individual or small group support to overcome serious concerns or risky behaviors.

Social workers are another caring adult in a child’s life providing both encouragement and accountability. Whether it’s a simple case of low self-esteem or a complex life-threatening situation, they have the education and expertise to produce positive changes.

As the new academic year begins, please remember that Youth First Social Workers and others are just down the hall in many schools, equipped and eager to support students, families and educators.

To see if Youth First serves your school, visit and go to “Find a Youth First Social Worker” to search by school, county or name.

By Alice Munson, Courier & Press, August 4, 2015 –

I feel fairly sure most of us believe we know how to listen. You may be thinking, “How complicated could it be?”

As a Youth First social worker, I do a lot of listening. As graduate social work students we were introduced to the book, “Active Listening,” by Carl R. Rogers and Richard E. Farson, and the term “active listening.” Some graduate students assumed this would be easy because, after all, who doesn’t know how to listen? It was hard to imagine this was a skill we would actually have to learn and practice.

Rogers and Farson define active listening as “listening to and confirming an understanding of what another says as well as the emotions and feelings underlying the message. Goal: to ensure that understanding is accurate so instructions can be directed to the student’s (person’s) actual needs and the student can be encouraged to engage with the material.”

Rogers and Farson state the basics of active listening as:

  • Responding to feelings (nonverbal cues)
  • Listening for total meaning without judgment
  • Feeding back to the speaker what is heard

Whew! Sounds like a major process, doesn’t it? But the truth is most of us are probably doing much of it already.

An anonymous person once said, “Every good conversation starts with good listening.” This is the Cliff Notes version of active listening and says it all. It assumes that good listeners listen attentively.

Isn’t this a skill we teach our young children? Is there a parent alive who has not said, “Please listen” to their young child? Then we often ask for feedback by saying, “What did I just say?”. Eventually we get to the stage where we feel confident our children are actually hearing what we say.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Stephen R. Covey, author of the Seven Habits series: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

I know that when I first read this, I was surprised in the simple truth of that statement, and it has served as a reminder to me to slow down and pay attention when I am feeling rushed. It also helps us re-evaluate our intentions and concentrate on the speaker instead of ourselves. The more we practice the more it becomes a habit. In the words of Marge Piercy, “If you want to be listened to you should put in the time listening.”

One of my favorite quotes is, “The word LISTEN contains the same letters as SILENT,” by Alfred Brendel. The words in this quote can actually do more than increase your chances to score in a game of Words with Friends.

When we listen it is sometimes hard to remain silent. Mentally reviewing our to-do list, thinking about future appointments or planning what to make for dinner can easily intrude into our listening. Often others are aware of our distraction even if we are not. If we cannot clearly hear another’s words, how can we discern what that person is hoping to share with us?

Another favorite quote for social workers and others is from Leo Buscaglia: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

You may be surprised about what you discover by listening to yourself and others. It’s easier than you think; just try it.