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It’s been 4 years since formation of Extraordinary Teen Council, the youth advisory board to Family & Youth Initiatives’ Chaffee County Youth Alliance.

In that time the council, composed of local high school students, has accomplished several goals designed to improve teen life in the community.

Initially the group was most concerned about giving teens alternatives to risky behaviors such as drug use by creating fun activities, including teen nights hosted alternately by ETC, Boys & Girls Clubs and Sellars Project Space’s Partnership for Community Action.

Many teen nights have included Twister tournaments, parties and other events.

Youth at A Church have also helped host a Halloween party and a New Year’s party along with movie nights and a barbecue.

Another ETC innovation was a teen discount pass.

Because teens say living in Salida is expensive, ETC came up with a pass enabling teens to get discounts at 11 local businesses.

The February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., led to another ETC initiative.

In response to that tragedy ETC students began to pursue a teen wellness voucher in cooperation with Solvista Health to address local teens’ mental health concerns.

The vouchers were a way of providing access to behavioral health care and minimizing stigma from mental health assistance.

Vouchers are good for two free 1-hour visits with a counselor at Solvista Health. For students ages 15-19 it is a confidential service. Students younger than 15 need parental permission.

After a lot of work and negotiation, the program was put into place in September 2018. Since then Dibby Olson of FYI estimates 52 teens have taken advantage of the voucher program.

The council was recently recognized by Chalkbeat Colorado for its work.

In response, member Jessie Rollins, a sophomore, wrote, “With all of the pressures of school and other activities, sometimes you just need someone to talk to. We also recognized the need to reduce the existing stigma surrounding mental health and treatment … The effects of mental health are often amplified by so many things in our teen lives.

“This is why the Teen Wellness Voucher was so important to the ETC in improving mental health access to teens, especially those who don’t want to or can’t get help from their parents or guardians … ETC wants to assist students in taking the first step toward self care.”

More recently ETC has made presentations to county and municipal governments asking them to not allow marijuana hospitality establishments, where marijuana could be smoked freely and outdoors.

The group serves as a voice for teens in the community.

Daemon Kerrigan, a junior, said instead of just pointing out problems, the council tries to do something about it.

Junior Bella Kintgen said, “We take action,” adding the Extraordinary Teen Council gives them a voice with community legislators.

Sydney Johnson, a senior, said her work with ETC has helped shape what she wants to do for work. She plans to study social work in college this fall.

When she leaves, ETC will remain in good hands, with several juniors and sophomores planning to carry on with work the group has begun.

New ideas in the works involve a self-defense class and a late bus service for teens who live in Poncha Springs and outlying areas who don’t have their own transportation, so they can participate more in after-school and ETC activities.

They are working with Chaffee Shuttle on the latter.

Another concern the council plans to address is students who don’t get lunch because they don’t qualify for free and reduced lunch but their family can’t afford it.

ETC members are currently fact-finding the problem to come up with a solution.

Kerrigan said of the role the teens have taken, “I didn’t think you could change this much. There’s a lot more you can do.”

Extraordinary Teen Council was honored for its work by the Salida school board at the board’s January meeting.

Teen wellness vouchers are available in Salida at Solvista Health office, Family & Youth Initiatives office, Chaffee County Public Health, Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, First Street Family Health, Salida Boys & Girls Club, Salida High School, Fun Street Family Arcade and Salida Regional Library.

In Buena Vista vouchers are available at Heart of the Rockies Buena Vista Health Center, Chaffee County Human Services annex, Buena Vista High School, Buena Vista Boys & Girls Club, elevateHer and Buena Vista Public Library.

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