Battle Ground one of country’s best communities for youth

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

Updated: September 12, 2012, 6:22 PM

 

When it comes to caring for young people, Battle Ground is one of the best communities in the country.

Battle Ground was named one of America’s Promise Alliance’s 100 Best Communities for Young People at an event in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning.

In addition to the community award, Battle Ground High School junior Kyle Harris was crowned the winner of the competition’s youth scholarship contest for her essay on suicide-prevention efforts in Battle Ground. The essay was one of two youth testimonials submitted with the city’s application.

“It’s a double whammy for us,” Mayor Lisa Walters said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

The “best community” designation comes with a $2,500 grant for the city. Harris also won a $2,500 scholarship for her essay. More than 320 communities entered the competition, which is in its sixth year. The city of Battle Ground applied last year but was not selected.

This year, the city’s application focused on the community’s response to youth suicides earlier this year, Walters said. In the first three months of 2012, three area teenagers died by their own hands.

Harris’ essay provided a teenager’s view of the suicides. She explained the feelings she and her peers were experiencing — raw feelings for Harris, who was close friends with two of the teens who died by suicide.

Her essay also highlighted how she took those feelings and turned them into action, organizing the city’s first Walk to Stop event in February. More than 200 people walked around the high school track to draw attention to the suicides and educate others about warning signs. The event raised more than $2,000, which Harris donated to the local Youth Suicide Prevention Program.

The second annual Walk to Stop will take place next February.

“If everyone is aware of the situation and aware of the signs of youth suicide, then we’re going to make a huge difference,” Harris said.

In addition to the youth testimonials, the application required demographics about youth in the community — such as graduation, dropout and homeless rates — and details about how existing programs and initiatives help to develop healthy, successful children. Applicants also had to describe how different sectors of their community work together to help children and families overcome challenges.

Among the examples, the city touted its annual evening of safe trick-or-treating along Main Street; the Rocksolid Community Teen Center, which offers students a place to receive after-school mentoring, healthy snacks and supervised recreational activities; and the Battle Ground High School Futures Program that provides developmentally challenged high school students with restaurant work experience.

The city also highlighted the school district’s implementation of the Rachel’s Challenge program, an initiative started by the parents of a student who was killed at Columbine High School in 1999. The program is a series of student-empowering programs and strategies that equip students and adults to combat bullying.

“It’s nice to know our community is willing to wrap its arms around the kids,” Walters said, “and this award shows that.”