On May 2-3, teens, parents, teachers, and others in the community came together in White Salmon to discuss the biggest problems facing young people in the community.
Last week's "All Our Relations Conference" at the Park Center drew a strong, concerned crowd. Sponsored by the Skamania-Klickitat Family Service Network, the two-day event was geared to determine the most important issues facing youth and families in the community.
Approximately 70 citizens turned out for the event.
A questionnaire distributed throughout Klickitat and Skamania counties before the conference asked area residents what they considered to be the biggest problems facing families.
By consensus, the top three were: child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and teen substance abuse.
Brian Johnson, co-chair of the Skamania-Klickitat Family Service Network, said about 250-300 questionnaires were returned.
"Overwhelmingly, those were the top three," Johnson said.
Other primary concerns were: teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, youth violence, teen suicides, and "other."
Chris Fisk, a senior at the alternative school in White Salmon, said he agreed with the selection of the top three problems.
"Those are the top three in our area, I believe," Fisk said. "Not maybe in that exact order, but that doesn't matter as long as those three are tackled."
Fisk said he believed information was a key to overcoming problems.
"Education of students about what is considered child abuse, whether emotional, physical, or verbal, is important," Fisk explained. "In my case I have a personal experience with verbal abuse, but I didn't know it wasn't normal. My idea was education for children at an early age. They might already be going through it [abuse] and don't know."
Jennifer Wardell of the Klickitat County Health Department helped coordinate the event, and she said she was gratified by the response.
"We were happy with the community support," Wardell said. "It was a nice showing, especially from teenagers."
Johnson said he appreciated the fact that about a dozen teens showed up for the event.
"It was great. The high school kids were very vocal and creative in their thinking," explained Johnson. "The thing that impresses me the most is how hungry people are to talk about this. There is shame and denial around these issues, and that has a stultifying affect. But people opened up in this setting."
Sam Dunlap of Stevenson, a volunteer with the Family Service Network, pointed out that the organization has been working on issues concerning children and families for the past eight years.
"The Family Service Network was created by the Washington Legislature, but funding has been cut each year. It may not make the 2004 budget,"Dunlap explained. "We may be out of business except for volunteers, community members, and business wanting to get involved in this."
He added that White Salmon was chosen for the two-day conference due to its central location to the two-county area.
Dunlap said he wanted to make sure the programs continued even without budgetary support.
"People who attended the conference wanted to make sure the effort continues, even if there is no stream of revenue from the state," Dunlap said.
Dunlap added that it was important for local citizens to find community solutions to problems like these.
"We need to generate our own agenda and work on solutions at the community level, rather than wait for some agency to define the problem for the community," he said. "It was really astonishing and rewarding to see the level of participation. We had high school kids excited enough to come back on Saturday to help set a vision."
Fisk said he was impressed with the commitment of those attending the conference, and was optimistic the event could bring positive changes.
"It was kind of amazing how everyone came together and worked," he said. "If they follow through with the ideas they came up with, I think it'll work."
For more information on the Family Service Network, call Jennifer Wardell at 493-2235.