Eagle River Youth Coalition and Vail Health win Community Impact Award | VailDaily.com

Eagle River Youth Coalition and Vail Health win Community Impact Award

Eat Chat Parent series recognized for addressing behavioral health

The Eat Chat Parent series has grown leaps and bounds in the last two years. Almost 1,500 people attended one of the 12 sessions this past school year.
Special to the Daily

“You are not in this alone.” The Eagle River Youth Coalition has embraced those six words for years, helping parents, caregivers, coaches, teachers and children know that we are a community who cares. In 2018-19, ERYC teamed up with Vail Health to host the Eat Chat Parent series, a vibrant 12-pack of classes that tackled tough topics, started important discussions and reassured all of us that we are not in this alone.

In fact, attendees learned, we are in this together, and we are stronger together — working, listening, learning and caring. The Vail Valley Partnership recognized ERYC and Vail Health with the Community Impact Award for Eat Chat Parent’s success in addressing behavioral health issues, increasing communication and helping create a community where we work together for each other.

Eat Chat Parent, which launched in 2011-12 as a “Dinner and Dialogue” has grown leaps and bounds in the past two years. Less than 200 people participated in the inaugural year and in 2018-19, almost 1,500 people —from children as young as fifth graders to grandparents and foster parents —set aside time to listen and learn about topics that are affecting youth and families today.

“It was really important to us to create an inclusive, welcoming environment where we could discuss difficult topics. We used the multi-generational approach, where different generations learn together,” said Carol Johnson, ERYC’s community engagement manager.

ERYC’s work wasn’t done in a vacuum: not only is Johnson a parent to two teens and one young adult, but she reached out to the entire community to hear what concerns caregivers have. Add a deep exploration into the area’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data (culled from ERYC’s bi-annual survey of students in grades 7 through 12), the Parent Survey and input from the Youth Leaders Council, and it became very clear that families are facing hardship right here in Eagle County and need the guidance and help of experts.

“It has never been more difficult to be a young person,” said Vail Health President and CEO Will Cook. “Technology has opened new doors, but it also presents extremely challenging and harmful situations for our youth. Just when they need their parents and friends most, technology creates barriers to meaningful interactions. With the click of a button, bullying can take place any time of day. Add these new challenges to a list of age-old peer pressures like drinking, smoking (now vaping) and drugs. All of this is why it’s more critical than ever to have conversations, share data and stories, and help young people and their parents navigate this new world.”

Eat Chat Parent brought nationally renowned experts to Eagle County to educate parents and children on topics including technology misuse, anxiety, and building resiliency and self-esteem. Each event was free of charge and offered childcare, dinner and Spanish interpretation in two locations — one midvalley and one downvalley.

“We asked, ‘How can we, as nonprofits and community members at large, help make life in Eagle County better for youth and their families?’” Johnson said. “Behavioral health has been a growing need in our valley, and it’s proven that opening up clear communication within families three or four years before risky behavior starts to show a decrease in the occurrence of the behavior. Eat Chat Parent is one way we can help reduce the stigma around behavioral health and create safe spaces to talk about important issues. Vail Health has been a guiding light in helping us revamp the Eat Chat Parent series, by bringing in national speakers and sharing its know-how in the behavioral health arena.”

Is this grassroots parenting effort helping? The answer seems to be yes. Participant feedback has been very positive, and community members ask for additional classes and resources.

“Very grateful living in this community and having these resources available,” shared one parent.

Another said, “Wow! Excellent speaker and topic. Very relevant to my high schooler and middle schooler. Discussion/presentation appropriate and easy to understand. Thank you!”

Feedback like this proves that even though the topics are challenging, there is a thirst for education, a way to connect with our children and an understanding that a strong foundation begins at home.

While thrilled at winning the Community Impact Award, ERYC and Vail Health are quick to explain that their work has only just begun, and next year’s programming is slated to be even more robust than this year’s. Starting in September, Eat Chat Parent will return with timely topics in English with Spanish interpretation, as well as some Spanish-specific presentations.

“Thanks for all that you do! This was helpful info. I truly appreciate it. This was my first time. I will be back,” said one caregiver who is ready to learn and listen again next year.

ERYC and Vail Health are grateful to all the community sponsors who came together to help create a better community for all: Total Health Alliance, Vail Resorts EpicPromise, Daniels Fund, Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, Drug Free Communities, Vail Valley Cares, Wells Fargo, Slifer Smith and Frampton Foundation, Changing Minds, Eagle River Foundation and Towns of Avon, Eagle, Gypsum and Vail.