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Community Y spearheads coalition to help prevent teen suicide

Staff Writer

SHREWSBURY — The Community YMCA is leading a coalition aimed at preventing suicide among teens and providing guidance and support to schools and communities in need after experiencing a traumatic loss.

The Monmouth County Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth, part of a statewide network, is a year-round program currently made up of more than 140 members ranging from school and medical personnel, law enforcement members and mental health providers.

The Community YMCA was selected in November to lead the coalition, which is operated by the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care and funded by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, Division of Children’s System of Care.

“We [have been] part of the coalition for a couple years and … were actually approached based upon … what we provide … in our counseling and social services, and as a result of the relationships that were already built, we thought it would be a great opportunity to expand what we do in terms of our counseling and social services,” said Rhonda Anderson, president and CEO of The Community YMCA.

“We accepted the offer to host the Traumatic Loss Coalition here in Monmouth County and felt that it was an important part of what we do as an organization.”

According to Colleen Verriest, vice president of counseling and social services at The Community YMCA, many see the YMCA as a place to simply swim or work out, but The Community YMCA also supports the mental well-being of community members and is one of a handful in the country that provides counseling and social services.

The Community YMCA has numerous certified licensed professionals who serve as counselors for community members and specialize in social work, clinical counseling and alcohol and drug counseling.

“A big piece of the coalition, and it really is a critical piece, is the involvement of the school personnel,” Verriest said.

“One of the areas that we’re constantly endeavoring to expand is the school personnel representation from every school in the county … so that if in the event there is a traumatic loss at any of the schools or in any of the communities throughout Monmouth County, we can be active … to provide a response.”

Verriest said the coalition’s role is not only to provide response in a time of need, but to also help to prevent suicide among teens in the community.

“Being part of this coalition and its mission is to provide community members, which includes parents and school personnel, some tools about talking with students and really being able to identify early on … risk factors … and how it relates to suicide prevention,” she said.

Some tips provided by Verriest for parents, educators and guardians to help increase suicide prevention include paying attention to changes in children’s behavior, such as if they become more isolated or go from outgoing to reserved.

Parents are encouraged to ask their children about the changes and are encouraged to get involved and seek professional help if they are concerned their child might be thinking of taking their own life.

“The other piece, as an example that came out of this recently, a parent who was part of a response we were part of, we were able to connect … to mental health first aid training, which was really valuable to this parent,” Verriest said.

“There’s a lot of connections we’re able to make and the mental health first aid is another component of what we’re promoting here at the YMCA as training opportunities and education opportunities for community organizations in Monmouth County.”

The Community YMCA is a nonprofit charity serving more than 20,000 residents in greater Monmouth County.

Its mission is to strengthen communities through programs such as before- and after-school care, health and wellness, leadership, arts enrichment, personal and family counseling and summer day camp.

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