Community leaders gather to discuss mentorship programs, community engagement

Community leaders across Elizabethton and Carter County have been gathering at Elizabethton Parks and Recreation for much of this week, coming together to talk, strategize and analyze about how to improve their communities in the best way possible.

The gathering is part of a three-day conference with the National Recreation and Park Association, as part of federal grant money Carter County received towards forming a mentorship program with the county’s youth.

“We are providing training amidst the opioid crisis,” Health Director of NRPA Allison Colman said. “We want to make sure youth are being supported.”

Leaders from many different areas of the community have been in attendance, including representatives from Carter County Drug Prevention, the Elizabethton/Carter County Library, city and county schools and Red Legacy Recovery.

“This really needs to be a cross-sector collaboration,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to have positive relationships between youth and adults.”

This holistic approach, she said, serves to change the culture in which today’s youth reside, and by fostering better relationships, youth might have less of a need to turn to substance abuse to cope.

The grant is a three-year program, and this three-day training week will help community leaders determine the best approach towards creating such a mentorship program. While Colman provides them with a blueprint to work off of, the finer details are up to Carter County.

Colman said Carter County is one of five areas in the Appalachia region to receive this grant program.

“A lot of what we have heard here is similar to other areas,” she said. “They have shared challenges.”

On Wednesday, she said some children came to speak on their experiences with programs already in effect by organizations such as CCDP, and Colman said that was one of her favorite parts of this program.

“They want to make this community a better place,” Colman said. “I want local leaders to understand how important this work is.”

She said the community has until September of 2021 to match 20 students with 20 community mentors in order to remain in the grant program.

“Local communities drive solutions,” she said. “It is about engaging that community voice. They are the future of this community.”

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