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Feature: Connect Battle Ground

Transforming Young Lives through Relationship By Vivian Mattila Walikainen

Being a teenager is hard.

And today’s world is all the more difficult for teens to navigate when they have been affected and disadvantaged by childhood trauma, neglect and abuse. In response to youth suicides and depression specifically in Battle Ground youth in recent years, community leaders looked for solutions by digging deeper into the root of the problems, and creating Connect BG, a coalition whose life-changing effects are now some of the best resources available to Battle Ground youth. What were the underlying issues? What was discovered lined up with scientific studies on ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). According to the Connect BG website, Robert Block of the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “ACEs are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.” The website continues, “Listening to the voices and behaviors of our youth has informed us, they feel abandoned by the adults of our society.” Many children are affected in varying degrees over multiple ACEs categories. The good news is that there are practical solutions to help these kids, and they are happening with incredible results in the Battle Ground community. Through the key principles of relationship, collaboration, and transformation, positive changes are taking place.

Connect BG The Connect BG coalition consists of over 135 organizations in the health, government, art, education, faith and business sectors. It is proving itself useful with its hands-on approaches. Connecting the generations is both the intuitive and scientific remedy for the deeper issues of adverse childhood experiences, which can result in such extreme expressions as suicide, isolation, cutting and other negative symptoms. Through various workshops and a well-trained caring adult network, kids in Battle Ground are being shown that their lives matter, and that they belong. Moreover, it is making a difference. The fundamental belief embraced by Connect BG is that “unhealthy behavior and outcomes are a result of an unmet need for belonging and significance. We have the resources to


provide these if we make them a priority ourselves.” Renowned researcher and storyteller Brene’ Brown offers convincing truths regarding human connections and our ability to empathize, love and belong. Her writings and Ted Talks offer credible insight into these universal human needs. These same truths are empowering Battle Ground youth. Connect BG lists key goals as: connecting kids and the community, working toward social and emotional wellbeing among youth, participating in healthy activities, preparation for adulthood and equipping for life’s work. The call to action does not stop with school administrators, counselors, or youth leaders – it goes out to the entire community. It does not call for creating new groups, but leans into existing frameworks of support and simply connects kids with adults who care. This means that anybody can get the vital training and become an integral part of the caring adult network, and get plugged in to make real changes in young lives. One example of this involvement is the Watch D.O.G. (Dads of Great Students) program that is modeled after the national program at This program has been embraced by some of Battle Ground’s local schools and is incredibly uplifting for young kids who look around and see the Watch D.O.G.s (caring male adults) actively involved in their school day. High-fives, hugs and playing football in the mud are all part of what Watch D.O.G.s, such as Lead D.O.G. Greg Loveall, do. The results? More smiles, less depression, more encouragement, fewer negative expressions. Kids see that adults care about them, and this makes a huge difference. It is one of the beautiful things that we intuitively know. As people, we need to care about one another; and as a result, good things will happen. Caring adults in the community are invited to attend training sessions called iCAN workshops, which are held in various organizations within the community. Dan Miller was one such senior who recently attended a session, learning about the effects of adverse childhood experiences and building resiliency. Since that time, Miller has jumped in whole-heartedly. He is a volunteer

Vancouver Family Magazine • • April 2017

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Vancouver Family Magazine April 2017  

The only magazine dedicated to Southwest Washington families.