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Halli Ellis: Nevada County community is stronger together

Other Voices
Halli Ellis

When NEO first began, I remember Co-Founder and Co-Director Lynn Skrukrud sharing how the Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters. One represents danger and the other opportunity.

We spoke about the opportunity that we had to support teens in the midst of drug abuse, isolation, and teen crime. For the last 12 years, our mission has been to provide New Events and Opportunities for youth in order to empower them to make healthy lifestyle choices.

During that time, we successfully opened a youth center, have served over 1,000 individual members, and typically engage with 60 teens per week. We were weeks away from celebrating our five-year anniversary at the youth center when we made the decision to close our doors temporarily due to concerns with COVID-19, followed by the shelter-in-place order.

Fast forward two months, we, as well as many others, are grieved at the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of youth in our community.

So here we are, in crisis, in the midst of great danger and opportunity. How will our community respond?

During adolescence, spending time with peers is important to youth development. It’s a time when youth are forming their identity and sense of self and looking outside of their family for growth and discovery. Isolation among teens is one reason we started NEO because we saw its devastating effects firsthand. Now, youth across Nevada County are sheltered in place, away from their schools, friends, sports, clubs, and social life.

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For many youth, they were already struggling day to day with their mental health, but there was some relief when they spent time with friends, received that warm hug, or played that game or sport. Without their normal support systems in place, youth are being hit with one loss after another. Without fully understanding grief, many are mourning their proms, friends, high school careers, graduations, performances, and the list goes on and on. Just like us adults, they’ve lost so much, but being younger, they have less experience with grief and are trying to navigate it while adjusting to a whole new way of life. It can be overwhelming for anyone, but especially youth who were vulnerable to begin with.

The aftermath of sheltering in place has been on my mind, as probably many of yours as well, but we must go on, being present in the moment and adapting gracefully and swiftly to these changing times in order to support the youth and provide some level of consistency to their new lifestyles. Since we closed the youth center temporarily, we have moved all activities virtual. We are posting regularly on social media sites to engage with teens, calling youth to check in, offering zoom events, sharing resources, and dropping off care packages. We want the youth in Nevada County to know that they’re not alone, they are loved, and we’ll get through this together.

Social distancing has helped us as an organization realize the importance of coming together. So here we are, in crisis, in the midst of great danger and opportunity. How will our community respond? Will we put aside our differences to support those that matter most to us?

I think the majority of us would say that our community is one-of-kind. We seek to help others and we come together not only when it’s needed, but when we feel it’s the right thing to do. We know that businesses are hurting, families are struggling, and there will be great challenges and difficulties ahead. We also know our community is made up of innovators, creative minds who think about the well being of others, who sacrifice and selflessly serve.

Our community has always and will always look out for one another and I have no doubt that in this next season we will see the love for our neighbors flourish.

Sheltering in place for us doesn’t mean hiding away from the outside world, but inviting it in. Meeting virtually has sped up the process of meeting and planning for the future. We are collaborating with like-minded organizations and doing our best to predict the future hardships and plan for protective factors to ensure resiliency and the safety of our youth.

If COVID-19 is a dark cloud that has swept over our community, slowly breaking through is a ray of sunshine; hope in the middle of the storm. Our future plans may look a little different, but we are ramping up for what’s ahead and boldly moving forward, knowing that we’re stronger together.

Halli Ellis is co-founder and co-director of the NEO (New Events & Opportunities), youth center and program.


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