Tag Archive for: YouthFirst2021

By Katherine Baker, LCSW, LCAC – January 6, 2022 –

During my time as a Youth First Social Worker, I have worked with many students impacted by cancer. This school year has been no exception, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer myself in July 2021. Here are a few ideas you may find helpful when coping with a cancer diagnosis.

When first learning about a cancer diagnosis, you may be scared and confused. After the initial shock has worn off, start reading and asking questions. There are many educational books and articles available to help you understand the type of cancer you or a loved one is facing. There are support groups in the community that can help as well. Check them out!

When going to doctor appointments, take another person with you who can assist with taking notes and asking questions. The person with cancer can be overwhelmed at times, so having someone else there for support is important. Bring a notebook and pen with questions you have thought of.

I began keeping a daily/monthly calendar of all doctor appointments and tests. It has been a good way for me to look back to check dates for billing purposes. I also use the calendar as a journal where I record how I feel on chemo days, as some days are better than others.

Keep in mind that some people may not be sure how to react to someone else’s cancer diagnosis. I told my Youth First supervisors, as well as school administrators and my co-workers, about my diagnosis at the start of the school year. I wanted them to be aware of what I would be going through, especially as I knew I would be losing my hair.

I met with students individually to determine if they would be okay working with me. Some of them had parents or family members with cancer, and I did not want to cause additional trauma or stress. Most were receptive, and some check on me as much as I check on them.

Develop a support system that includes family, friends, church community members, neighbors, peers, and co-workers. You will have your oncologist and other medical support staff guiding you through treatment, but having the support of loved ones is just as important.

I can’t do it all on my own, so I find it comforting to have others support me physically, mentally, and spiritually. While going through chemotherapy, my co-workers made goody bags on a regular basis filled with items such as Chapstick, hand and body lotion, puzzle books, snacks, etc. Cards of encouragement are always welcome; everyone loves getting mail!  

Finally, if you know someone with cancer, ask them how you can help. It could be just listening to them, sharing a meal, helping with transportation to appointments, going on walks together, or even helping with housework. Most importantly, be flexible and patient with someone going through their cancer journey.

By Sarah Audu, LSW – December 22, 2021 –

Grief is often viewed as a sensitive subject, for obvious reasons. It is something we tend to maneuver around with caution. This is likely because each person experiences some form of grief in their lifetime, and we as humans are empathetic towards each other.

We want to handle each other’s struggles and emotions with care. An even more fragile subject to consider is the grief of a child. It is our human nature to want to be gentle and cautious when helping a child who is experiencing something difficult in their life. This can lead to us being hesitant for fear of saying the wrong thing as we try to support them.

Losing a loved one is not the only form of grief a child may experience. Grief can be the emotional result of many scenarios, such as a child’s parents getting a divorce or a best friend moving away. These difficult situations produce hard emotions for the child, because they are experiencing change, pain, and loss. When a child experiences these changes, he/she must learn to cope in the the best ways they know how.

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous time for all. However, many people dread this time of year due to the pain and grief they are feeling inside. One child may be struggling this holiday season because this is the first year her family will be celebrating Christmas without her father, who suddenly passed away. Another child may be trying to cope with their mother living across the country, confused and unsure when they will get to see mom again.

Every person deals with grief, pain, and loss differently. Experiencing depression, anxiety, and sadness is often viewed as the “normal” emotional reaction to grief. However, some people may state they feel alright most of the time. It may be more healing and beneficial for them to go through their daily routine as they did before, and deal with the painful stings of grief as they arise.

Children are very resilient. They are commonly much stronger than we imagine them to be, especially while facing a challenging situation that has caused them emotional pain. Something we can do to ease the pain of grieving children during the holidays is to follow their lead in conversation and pay close attention to how they are handling their emotions. They may surprise you and show exactly what they need from you in that moment.

Some children may want to deal with their grief in this season by continuing with past traditions and including their loved ones in a new way. Children may also want to start different traditions and create new memories.

What we know for sure is that children have big hearts, and this season gives us a wonderful opportunity to hold them a little closer and give them the support they need during challenging times.

By Julie Hoon, Vice President of Philanthropy – December 16, 2021 –

The busy holiday season brings many priorities, and our mental health does not always earn a spot at the top of the list. However, gratitude and giving can have a direct link to improved health, increased happiness, and infinite joy…especially this time of year.

As a fundraiser for Youth First, I hear story after story about the joy that comes from giving. Our donors experience feelings of connectedness, wellness, and life satisfaction when they make a donation to Youth First, because they are giving to a cause they care about. They are helping kids thrive and positively impacting the future of their community.

In fact, gratitude and giving are contagious, as I was recently reminded by Youth First donors James and Diane VanCleave. James and Diane have a heartfelt Christmas gift for one another that impacts kids and avoids the hectic hustle and bustle of the holiday rush: they each make a donation to Youth First in honor of their spouse.

“There was nothing material we could give each other that we didn’t have,” says Diane about their Christmas ritual, “so one year, James said he was making a donation to Youth First for Christmas on my behalf. I immediately said that I would like to do the same.” Years later, their gifts to Youth First have become a holiday tradition. James makes the first donation in honor of Diane, and then Diane makes her donation in honor of James.

James, an Evansville Police Department officer who worked as a school liaison officer for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation after retirement, says he saw firsthand the value of Youth First Social Workers as an intervention for students to talk to rather than a police officer getting involved. Diane, a social worker who worked with Youth First founder Dr. Bill Wooten at the Mulberry Center early in her career, says social workers and teachers are making a change for kids and influencing lives. She says, “It just makes sense to support this work.”

Gratitude and giving can cause delightful spillover effects. When donating to a cause you love, you might see the ripple effect in your life from family, to friends, to work, and to yourself. Giving brings about a sense of gratitude for what we’ve been blessed with, along with happiness and joy in knowing you are helping others. Studies highlight an association with well-being and gratitude, resulting in fewer doctor’s visits, taking better care of self, and improved relationships. With giving, many people experience greater satisfaction in life, reduced stress, and a healthier outlook in general, both physically and mentally. 

Perhaps this season your holiday list may include giving to a charity you love? If so, I can assure you that joy and happiness will follow. Our community thrives and so does your mental health. James and Diane certainly agree that their Christmas gifts of giving to Youth First are a natural extension from their hearts to give back to their community. “Plus, it’s the perfect gift,” adds James. “It always fits and you will never have to return it!” 

By Kelsey Hagemeier, LSW – December 8, 2021 –

The focus of the last year has been about the many ways that COVID-19 is continuously affecting our daily lives. At some points this year, it started to feel like we were getting closer to the sense of normalcy we’ve craved since the pandemic started.

But here we are, with the holiday season quickly approaching and new COVID cases and variants threatening many of our holiday plans and schedules.

It’s easy to feel disappointed by this. It’s another holiday season COVID is “taking from us” in many ways. I’d like to invite you to look at the situation from a different perspective. This ongoing pandemic is giving us another unique opportunity to bring ourselves back to the basics and examine what truly makes the holidays meaningful.

The reality is, this year probably isn’t going to be the same as pre-COVID times. It’s frustrating, and I get it. We are all tired. Instead of letting these feelings consume us, we can take the opportunity for a little rest and reset and make the best of the cards we’ve been dealt.

Last year, gathering with vulnerable loved ones was not an option for many families. This year, more families have the opportunity to gather safely with the aid of vaccines and boosters. This is the perfect opportunity to create new family traditions and reflect on what is really important to each of us this time of the year.

We can teach our children the importance of helping and supporting those who might be going without again this year. This holiday season is an opportunity to make a positive impact on those we know who are struggling.

Your family can write letters (like old school, “put a stamp on it” letters) to people you care about wishing them a happy holiday season. Letting people know you are there for them during these difficult times is more important than ever.  

Maybe you can start a new tradition like baking cookies, playing a family board game, or making gratitude lists. With our families, chosen and given, we can embrace this change. We can demonstrate the importance of resiliency, creativity, and connections with others to our children and communities this winter.

There is so much about 2021 that has been difficult for us – as a community, a nation, and a world. This holiday season does not have to be one of them.

Kelsey Hagemeier , LSW, is a Youth First Social Worker at Bosse High School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 78 Master’s level social workers to 105 schools in 12 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.

By Christine Weinzapfel-Hayden, LCSW – December 1, 2021-

With the holidays quickly approaching, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement and drain yourself financially. Often, we center our ideas about holidays around gifts, especially at Christmas time. I know this is something I have been guilty of in the past.

Every year I make a pledge to myself to cut back, but then the time comes and I feel like I’m not giving my family enough. The truth is, when we look back on gifts we’ve received, those aren’t the memories we hold dear. Our traditions are what make the holidays special.

Giving up the notion that our children need the latest toys, the coolest tech, and the trendiest new fashions isn’t easy. This can happen because we want to make our kids happy, but mostly because marketers and advertisers do a really good job training our psyche to believe we need material items.

When shopping for gifts, make a point to ask yourself, “Does this fit in with my holiday goals?” or “Does my child need this?” before purchasing an item. Asking yourself these questions can open an inner dialog and help prevent overspending.

The first step in creating a simpler holiday season is to discuss your goals with your partner or family. Decide what is important to you and what the holidays mean to you as a unit. Write down your main goal, whether it is to spend less, give more, or create new traditions. Do this early and hold each other accountable as you get closer to the season.

Another idea is to center your gifts on experiences, not items. Our happiest memories are almost always about things we’ve done, not items we’ve received. Memberships to places in or around your community are always great, and as a bonus, they’re gifts the whole family can experience together.

Lastly, don’t forget about your favorite childhood traditions. Take this opportunity to share with your children some of your fondest holiday traditions. For me, it’s cookie baking day and making gingerbread houses. These are two separate family traditions we continue to this day. I have loved introducing them to my own kids.

These traditions don’t have to be expensive. It can be reading your favorite book together, making cookies, or watching a holiday movie. Holidays can be full of joy and magic without having an excessive number of gifts under the tree. The magic comes in the memories you make together.

Talk to your family about ways you can make your holidays even more meaningful by cutting out some of the excess. The memories you make will be worth the changes.

By Jana Pritchett – November 23, 2021-

We’re entering the peak season for family traditions. Some that I recall from my childhood include enjoying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while cooking the turkey and trimmings, sharing reasons to be thankful around the dinner table, playing board games with family after a large holiday meal, and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” after attending Christmas Eve services.

Many of our fondest memories are centered on family traditions, activities or patterns of behavior that help us bond with our families. Often these traditions are a link to past and future generations. 

As a young child, I remember my grandparents taking my family to dinner at Helen’s Restaurant every Sunday. They often shared stories from my father’s childhood. This was precious time spent with them, creating special memories I can call up now that they’ve passed on.  

Even though today’s family looks a lot different than families of a generation or two ago, traditions are still an important part of family life and the foundation of strong family ties. This year’s traditions may look a little different due to the continued risk of travel and gathering in large groups, but it’s still important to fit in simple traditions that help children and teens establish a sense of belonging.  

Family writer Denise Witmer, contributor to numerous national outlets including Parenting.com, offers five reasons to observe family traditions:

  1. Family traditions create good feelings and special moments. They create positive emotions and memories that will last a lifetime. It’s always a sweet moment when an older child remembers a wonderful time shared when they were younger.
  2. Family traditions give every member of the family a stronger sense of belonging. Time spent together strengthens the bonds between family members.
  1. Family traditions help your child or teen with his/her identity. When teens are trying to figure out who they are, it helps to know that they belong. Teens need encouragement to be a part of something bigger when they’re searching and defining their sense of self.
  1. Family traditions help parents impart life skills and family values to their children. Spending more time together helps parents and grandparents model these family values and provides more opportunities to talk about serious issues. Having fun together helps keep the conversation light and encourages kids to open up.
  1. Family traditions offer your child or teen a sense of security. Teens, especially, face some difficult issues in today’s world. Knowing they are secure and have a family to turn to is a powerful tool to use when confronting negative peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, college and career choices, etc.

Even as your child grows older, family traditions are still important.  Find a way to carry out the rituals that help define your family. Often teens will insist on sticking with tradition even when you find it difficult to fit these moments into your routine.

My grown children, ages 30 and 26, still insist on finding the hidden pickle in the tree to see who will open the first gift on Christmas Eve. As they leave the family nest and everything in their world seems to be changing, busy young adults stay connected through family traditions.

If your existing traditions don’t seem to have the same appeal, create new ones. Do what works for your family. Cooking dinner together, taking a hike at a local park, driving through the countryside to see Christmas lights, or even eating a special food one night a week will create memories that your children will pass on to their own families and remember for a lifetime. 

By Callie Sanders, LSW – November 17, 2021-

Somehow, here we are. November is flying by, and we’re in the season of Thanksgiving.

Being thankful and appreciative for what is received, tangible or intangible, is an example of gratitude. By acknowledging the good things in life, people usually recognize that sources of goodness can exist both inside and outside of themselves. Gratitude helps people connect to something larger and can help them appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new.

Although it may sound silly at first, this mental state grows stronger with time and practice. Studies support an association between well-being and gratitude, resulting in fewer doctor’s visits, taking better care of self, and improved relationships.

For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partners felt more positive towards each other and more comfortable expressing concerns related to their relationship.

Workplace gratitude also comes with great benefits. Showing gratitude in the workplace costs nothing and only requires minimal time. This can lead to employee morale and better performance. Leaders can also create an environment where everyone is responsible for showing gratitude to ensure all are recognized.

In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that 93% of employees are motivated to do their best at work and 88% reported being more engaged when they feel valued by their employer. Only 21% of the polled group said they were considering searching for new employment in the upcoming year.  

Another benefit of practicing gratitude at work is “the spillover effect,” which has the power to enrich other aspects of our lives outside of the office. With gratitude, many people experience greater satisfaction in life, reduced stress, and a healthier outlook, physically and mentally.

Lastly, here are a few simple ways to start cultivating more gratitude.

1.     Write or email a thank-you note. This can help nurture and strengthen relationships with others. You can decide how often to send a note of gratitude. Do not forget to write to yourself!

2.     Keep a gratitude journal. This will help boost happiness and better coping for life’s challenges.

3.     Take time to meditate. Practice mindfulness by focusing on what you are grateful for today.

4.     Say a prayer. Prayer can help cultivate gratitude.

5.     Mentally thank someone. Think about someone who has done something nice for you and mentally thank that person.

Life brings many unexpected twists and turns. There’s no better way to tackle that stress and show yourself and others love than spreading a little gratitude along the way. 

By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC – November 10, 2021-

From day one as parents, we strive to nurture our children and protect them from all foreseeable dangers. As they grow and become more independent, it is our job to give them skills to protect themselves. We must also grant them just the right amount of independence to nurture that growth.

The teenage years seem to be the most challenging for both parents and teens. A sense of newfound autonomy, combined with the risky situations many teens face, makes this time period very daunting from a parent’s perspective.

Addressing substance use can be difficult for parents. We want to open the conversation and create a very safe space for open communication, but we must also be very clear while expressing family values and expectations.

Communicate with your teen that you want to sit down and talk with them about vaping, drugs, and alcohol in advance of the actual sit-down. This helps avoid the defensiveness you may encounter if it is an impromptu conversation.

By asking your child to “make good choices” or “be smart,” you are leaving room for interpretation. Instead, be very clear about your expectations and the potential consequences if your teen makes the choice to use these substances. Say you expect them not to use any substances and clearly outline what the consequences will be. Always encourage your child to use these consequences as an excuse if they don’t feel comfortable just saying no.

In addition, some professionals recommend drug/alcohol testing your child randomly. This holds them more accountable as drug use/vaping can sometimes be difficult for parents to detect. It can also serve as a great tool for them to use in saying no to the pressure.

Be sure you are listening to your child as well as helping them understand your expectations. It is important to make an agreement that your child can always call you if they find themselves in a bad situation. Communicate to them that there will not be yelling or confrontation at the time, but the next day you will sit and talk about their choices and how to be safer.

A roadblock parents often encounter during these years is your child feeling that you are a hypocrite for your current behavior or your own choices in your youth. There are several different approaches that can be helpful. A parent can meet questions about their teen years with prefacing the conversation by sharing that it is our job as parents to guide them and help avoid things that may result in regret.

Another approach is to be honest while being extremely cautious not to glamorize your experiences. The important piece to the conversation is to be clear about your expectations while also creating a safe space for your child to come if there are pressures or situations they need to talk to about.

Youth First’s website, youthfirstinc.org, offers great articles and resources for further education on this topic and many other youth-related issues.

By Jordan Nonte, LSW – November 3, 2021 –

I’ll be honest; pregnancy is one of my biggest fears. I know this doesn’t have anything to do with therapy, but stick with me for a moment. There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to welcoming a child into a family.

The thing is, no matter how much I research and prepare, I know that everyone’s experience is different. There is no way to be completely prepared. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith, branch out of your comfort zone, and do the thing that scares you.

Guess what? Therapy is the same way. Although you can’t research exactly what you’ll experience, it can help you feel a little less anxious if you know what to expect when you walk into your first session.

There are many different types of therapy: psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral, solution-focused, and motivational interviewing to name a few. Your therapist will determine which of these would be the most beneficial for your goals. They may assist in creating a treatment plan to develop specific goals, objectives, and interventions to track your progress.

Some common reasons one may seek therapy is to get a handle on anxiety, depression, anger, grief, marital/family issues, trauma, addiction, stress, and crises. You may just want to talk through something and get a second opinion. Therapy may be short-term and focus mainly on problem solving, or it may last longer to explore factors contributing to a larger issue.

I’ll be honest, therapy takes work. Be aware that your therapist may give you “homework.” It is very important to fully participate in therapy, stay engaged, and follow through with any outside work.

Confidentiality is a major factor in services. Your therapist will have you sign an informed consent document, likely the first day you meet. Therapists have a duty to report abuse and neglect.

The only professionals that can prescribe psychiatric medication in the state of Indiana are physicians, psychiatrists, and nurse practitioners. However, your therapist can always refer you if you feel that medication is necessary for your success.

In a nutshell, therapy is different for everyone. Remember that it is always okay to ask for help. Many people may wait until the last second to get therapy because it makes them feel like a failure, weak, or ashamed.

I heard a quote once that has always stuck with me: “Going to a therapist or counselor when you’re sad or overwhelmed should be as normal as going to the doctor when you have the flu.”

Don’t wait until you’re on your last straw to seek help. Talk to your family physician about their recommendations in the area or do your own research to schedule an appointment. 

By Kelsey Crago, LSW – October 21, 2021 –

Learning to drive is an important milestone in a young person’s life. Take a minute to think back to that time in your youth. Driving has the power to provide freedom and helps instill a stronger sense of independence in teenagers.

This milestone not only brings changes to your teen’s life, but also to yours as a caregiver. You’ll have less running to activities and an extra hand with errands. You may also experience some fears and ask yourself, “How can I keep my child safe?”

According to the CDC, teenage drivers are nearly three times more likely than drivers over age 20 to be in a fatal car accident. The biggest contributing factor to this danger is simply lack of experience. Other contributing risks include texting and driving, speeding, unsafe vehicles, and use of alcohol and drugs.

How can we combat these risk factors as caregivers? Here are eight recommendations for keeping your teen safe on the road.

  1. Be informed. Stay up to date with your state’s driving restrictions for newly licensed drivers. Discuss and enforce these with your teen.
  2. Model safe driving habits. Make sure you’re setting a safe example when driving by avoiding phone use, following traffic rules, and utilizing a designated driver when consuming alcohol. Our kids are always watching and learning.
  3. Limit passengers. Crash risks are nearly double for teens with one passenger and increase with each additional passenger. Consider limiting your teen’s passenger privileges initially and gradually increasing privileges with driving experience.
  4. Limit nighttime driving. The most severe teen crashes occur between 9 pm and midnight. Practice supervised night driving with your teen. Consider setting a time restriction for your teen’s vehicle use and gradually allow later driving as your teen gains experience.
  5. Watch the weather. Bad weather increases risk of accidents for all drivers. Teens do not have the experience to react safely in dangerous conditions. Limit your teen’s unsupervised driving in bad weather, increasing privileges with supervised experiences.
  6. Stick to familiar roads. Unfamiliar or high speed roads increase your teen’s risk for an accident. Consider limiting your teen’s range of driving to familiar places. Allow time for supervised practice on highways, interstates, or unfamiliar settings before increasing privileges.
  7. Ban driving (and riding) under the influence. Any amount of alcohol or drugs produces impairment in teen drivers. Establish a safety plan with your teen that can be followed if they find themselves in this dangerous situation.
  8. Prioritize vehicle safety. Factors including engine power, vehicle size, and airbags need to be considered when choosing a vehicle for your teen. Spend time with your teen reviewing car maintenance and safety.

Statistics show a teen’s greatest improvement in safety occurs within the first year and after their first few thousand miles of driving. Following these recommendations can help keep teens safe while they gain driving experience.

Consider creating a driving agreement with your child outlining expectations and consequences. Being involved in your teen’s driving experience is a great opportunity to connect and build lasting memories!