Uniting for youth: Groups collaborate to help children in need in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Uniting for youth: Groups collaborate to help children in need in Nevada County

Marina Bernheimer
Special to The Union

"The solution of all adult problems tomorrow depends in large measure upon the way our children grow up today." — Margaret Mead

Nevada County is, in many ways, an idyllic community. This community has been identified in publications like Sunset Magazine, Outdoor Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle as a "Top 10 Small Town" or "Best Place to Retire." The scenic beauty of the Yuba River, historic gold rush-era downtowns and small town charm are just a few of the appealing aspects of life in our rural foothills community.

In some ways, the quaint and picturesque beauty of Nevada County masks the real needs and challenges faced by many local children and families. These challenges include financial hardship, generational cycles of poverty/substance abuse/domestic abuse, and a higher-than-State-average number of youth encountering childhood trauma.

Many people are not aware of the relatively high rate of community members living in poverty. One indicator of the high level of financial challenges is that the majority of students qualify for free lunches in multiple school districts in Nevada County.

The federal free- and reduced-price lunch program provides free or inexpensive lunches to children from low-income families, defined as households with an income at or below 130 percent of the poverty income threshold. In Nevada County, 55 percent of students in the Grass Valley School District, 65 percent in the Penn Valley Union Elementary School District and 85 percent in the Twin Ridges School District are eligible for free and reduced lunches.

Another challenge faced by families, regardless of economic status, is the number of children experiencing adverse childhood experiences. Occurring during childhood, the most formative period in a person's life, adverse childhood experiences are traumatic experiences that effect a child's developing brain and body. Breakthrough research in neurobiology has shown that these experiences disrupt neuro-development and can have lasting effects on brain structure and function.

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The landmark CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study was the largest and most comprehensive investigation of the impact of childhood experiences on later-life health and well-being.

The study identified a set of 10 adverse childhood experiences — including emotional or physical neglect; verbal humiliation; growing up with an addicted or mentally ill family member; and parental abandonment, divorce or loss — that can harm developing brains, predisposing them to illnesses and chronic health challenges decades after the trauma took place. These illnesses include diseases — such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes — that are the most common causes of death and disability in the United States.

The explanation for the profound and lasting impact of adverse childhood experiences lies in the toxic stress caused by childhood trauma. Unlike positive stress, which we all need to develop into healthy adults, toxic stress causes the body to stay in a red-alert mode — always ready to fight, flee or freeze — which puts a lot of wear and tear on the body's systems.

Toxic stress can change the structure and function of a child's developing brain, damage the immune system, hormonal system, and even change the way DNA is read and transcribed.

These findings have important implications for children's health and well-being, including the need for increased attention to the early detection and treatment of children affected by trauma, as well as to the conditions in families and communities that contribute to adverse childhood experiences.

It is not an overstatement to say that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues as a community and as a nation. Reducing these experiences has the potential to decrease the prevalence of many health, disability, education and employment problems, resulting in significant cost savings for government, private, and public sectors.

The good news is Nevada County is host to multiple child and family serving agencies that are engaged in collaborative and comprehensive work to support vulnerable and at-risk youth and families.

A cluster of nonprofits have come together to form the Nevada County Youth Collaborative in order to identify and work in partnership with valuable programs and services that aim to provide resource and services in support of at-risk children and youth. This new partnership will ensure that collaboration is maximized, duplication of services is minimized, and gaps in services are addressed to provide a coordinated array of support.

The youth serving organizations are working together to keep the community informed about nonprofit agencies that help vulnerable families and children in Nevada County.

Nevada County is home to about 150 nonprofit organizations working on behalf of environmental, social service, animal protection, schools and many more causes. Given this number, there is a prevailing notion there must be duplication of efforts and services among these agencies. Despite the number of nonprofit agencies serving local children, each one is providing an important and unduplicated service to meet children's and families' varied needs and to provide services for at-risk youth from prenatal to young adulthood.

Over the next six months, the Union will run a series of monthly columns intended to educate the community about the direct services being provided by nonprofits to at-risk youth, how nonprofits are working collaboratively to offer unduplicated and comprehensive services to support at-risk youth, and the ongoing need for adults to become engaged in supporting vulnerable youth in our community.

While there are many vital private, governmental, and school-based programs in our community that contribute to the positive development of youth, this series will specifically highlight the work of Nevada County nonprofits serving at-risk children and families.

This series will showcase stories, statistics and services offered by local nonprofits working collaboratively. Together, and with the support of our community, we are working to make sure that the most vulnerable children and youth in Nevada County have a safety net of protection and resources.

As a collaborative of youth-serving agencies, we believe that our entire community benefits when the neediest children and families are supported and strengthened to lead healthy and happy lives.

Marina Bernheimer is the Executive Director of Child Advocates of Nevada County.

Youth Collaborative

Here is the list of Nevada County Youth Collaborative members:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Nevada County and North Lake Tahoe

Child Advocates of Nevada County

Community Beyond Violence

Community Recovery Resources

The Friendship Club

Helping Hands Nurturing Center

KARE Crisis Nursery

NEO

Partners Family Resource Centers