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Did you know that, according to a survey conducted at Harwood Union High School last year, 10 percent of students made a suicide plan during the prior 12 months and 7 percent of senior girls actually made a suicide attempt? According to the survey, nearly a quarter of Harwood high-schoolers (23 percent) “have felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” over the prior 12 months.
One-third of seniors had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row over the prior 30 days. More than one-quarter (28 percent) of sophomores were offered, sold, or given an illegal drug on school property during the prior 12 months, and 6 percent of all students had used marijuana on school property during the prior 30 days. I hope you are as shocked and disturbed by this state of affairs as I am. Clearly, we need to do more to support our youth – especially during the most dangerous times of the day for them, the typically unsupervised hours of 3 to 6 p.m.
The Harwood administration obviously is aware of this data and is working to make improvements at the school, but we need to do more in our homes and in our local community to have an impact. We can and must do more to support our teenaged youth with a safe and enjoyable place to meet with friends, pursue their passions and discover their place in the world.
You might have heard that the Waitsfield Select Board has purchased an option to acquire a 4.5- acre parcel of land and the two Flemer barns in the center of Waitsfield Village adjacent to the former polo field. The town is forming a task force to evaluate options for this property in the coming months. This creates an incredible one-time opportunity for our community and especially the youth of our Valley. The purchase option will expire next summer and if we don’t have a solid plan in place by then, the property will likely be placed on the market.
I strongly encourage the public to join Open Hearth in working with the town of Waitsfield to acquire this property and convert the smaller Flemer barn into a community/youth center. This barn is an ideal facility in which to create a substance-free facility for our teens. The purchase price is extremely reasonable, it’s adjacent to the town-owned Flemer recreation field, it’s convenient off the school bus route, it’s easy to reach from Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston and Moretown, and it’s in close proximity to numerous other Waitsfield Village assets such as the Valley Players Theater, the new Mad River Dance Academy, the Village Grocery, Bridge Street Marketplace and, of course, the ever-popular youth gathering spot, the covered bridge.
According to the Vermont Coalition of Teen Centers, there are over 40 youth/teen centers supporting kids and their families in towns across Vermont. It’s time we made an investment in our kids by creating one here in the Mad River Valley.
As a community, we value our rich agricultural land – and through the fine efforts of the Vermont Land Trust we have invested over $1.5 million in preserving farmland in the Mad River Valley. This includes the Flemer lands, Knoll Farm, Kingsbury Farm, Hartshorn lands, Bragg Farm and numerous other valuable agricultural assets.
We value our forested properties that provide important recreational opportunities and protect diminishing wildlife habitat. Also, together with the Vermont Land Trust, we have invested over $1.2 million conserving Valley forestland.
We also value local food, flowers, artisan products and musicians and support our hardworking and talented neighbors by spending approximately $750,000 annually at one of the most popular farmer’s markets in the state – The Waitsfield Farmers’ Market.
And we certainly value our skiing spending over $3 million annually on season passes at Sugarbush, Mad River Glen and Ole’s and Blueberry Lake Cross Country Ski Centers.
Given the unique opportunity that the Flemer lands and barns present for Waitsfield and The Valley, including the youth of The Valley, let’s work together to make ownership of this land and a youth/community center a reality.
(For more information about the 2011 Vermont High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey see www.healthvermont.gov/research/yrbs/2011/index.aspx.)
Brian Degen is the founder and president of Open Hearth Community Center, Inc.