Jefferson County, Colo. — No one can explain what it’s like to be a high schooler in 2020 like teens themselves. That’s why a group of young people from Jefferson County visited Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. today, February 5, 2020, to speak to their Congressman, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), about the problems they face and the supports they need.
The 14 youth research interns are with Jefferson County Communities That Care (CTC), an evidence-based community change process facilitated by Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) focused on preventing substance misuse, sexual/relationship violence, and hopelessness and anxiety among young people. Earlier this week, the youth attended the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) National Leadership Forum’s Youth Leadership Initiative. The conference culminated with Capitol Hill Day, an opportunity for youth to visit with legislators to discuss key issues like those they have focused on during their internship.
“These topics affect youth around the country but are rarely ever discussed by youth themselves. Many other topics are covered, but the more serious and deeper conversations have been left untouched,” said Eliza Todd, a sophomore at Lakewood High School who attended the conference and Capitol Hill Day. “This is a way to begin to talk about these topics and open up, and hopefully, more youth will get involved in the future.”
This is the first cohort of young people from Jefferson County to attend a CADCA Capitol Hill Day and to bring important topics like substance misuse, sexual/relationship violence, and hopelessness and anxiety to their legislators as a collective. In addition, these young people are the only group of youth attending from Colorado this year, joining hundreds of high schoolers from across the country.
The youth are students at Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Dakota Ridge and Jefferson Jr./Sr. High Schools. Representatives from Jeffco Public Schools helped coordinate and chaperone the trip.
“I appreciate the opportunity to hear directly from students in Jefferson County about the issues and challenges they face on a daily basis. We must do everything we can to support young people in Jefferson County and across Colorado, and it starts with learning and understanding their experience,” said Rep. Perlmutter. “Thank you to Jefferson County Communities That Care and Jefferson County Public Health for helping to facilitate such an insightful conversation, and I hope it is one of many to come.”
This is the third class of youth research interns to work with Jefferson County CTC at JCPH to provide insight and conduct qualitative and quantitative research among their peers on these difficult subjects.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the peer-to-peer training that the CADCA conference develops,” said Ryan Charter, a junior at Lakewood High School. “Through this youth leadership opportunity, I can improve my communications skills, which will help me in the youth town hall I will be leading as a CTC intern later this semester.”
The young people who work with CTC are supported by more than 50 adults from across sectors — from teachers, to parents, to mental health and public health professionals, to law enforcement — who help solidify and implement efforts across the county. One of the latest projects to come out of Jefferson County CTC was Twelve Talks to Have with Teens, an online resource that provides adults ideas on how to communicate with the youth in their lives about difficult subjects. The need for this resource came directly from focus groups conducted by youth research interns that found many teens feel they don’t have a trusted adult they can talk to in their life.
“The work the youth have done has been pivotal in helping us understand the topics we’re looking at, and in finding real, substantive ways to try to meet young people’s needs,” said Pamela Gould, Jefferson County CTC Coordinator at JCPH. “In every interaction, the youth are remarkably earnest and vulnerable. They work hard, and they clearly care a lot about these issues. They teach us something every day.”
While in D.C., the youth also met with staff members from Sens. Michael Bennet’s and Cory Gardner’s offices to discuss their work and their perspectives. Upon returning home to Jefferson County, the young people will continue to lend their expertise to the Jefferson County CTC work, including by holding a youth town hall and a public forum at which they will present the findings of their research from the semester.
The youth attending the conference in D.C. have written blogs to share their experience and learnings from each day. You can read about the youth’s takeaways from the CADCA Youth Leadership Initiative at https://www.jeffco.us/3909/Blog. To learn more about Jefferson County CTC, including to learn ways to get involved in ongoing work, please contact CTC Coordinator Pamela Gould at [email protected].
About Jefferson County Communities That Care
Jefferson County Communities That Care is a structured, evidence-based community change process focused on preventing substance misuse, interpersonal violence and hopelessness/anxiety among youth by reducing risk factors and improving protective factors. The coalition and is housed within Jefferson County Public Health. This project was made possible with funding from a Communities That Care grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), a grant from Community First Foundation and a Drug-Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This particular training and advocacy opportunity was made possible using federal Drug Free Communities grant funds.
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we as a society do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH, Instagram @JeffcoPH and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth.