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Helping kids make better choices

Matt Crane
Preston Utley/Vail Daily Beth Reilly runs the Eagle River Youth Foundation.
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EAGLE COUNTY – Teenage suicide and underage drinking affect every American community, including Eagle County. And these are not issues with which most people enjoy concerning themselves, but they are the focus of Beth Reilly’s work. She says her baby was her inspiration for her career. She is the director and youth services coordinator of the Eagle River Youth Coalition, a group of several organizations that try to help the kids of Eagle County. “They’re great kids, they’re on the right track. And, hopefully, the kids that are slipping off the track, the other kids will pull them back on,” Reilly says.The group’s mission “is to asses and meet the changing needs of area children and teenagers through youth-serving organizations,” she says. Better choices

One of the coalition’s major projects is conducting the High School Attitude and Behavior survey every other year. Reilly and the rest of the Eagle River Youth Coalition evaluate the survey’s results to determine the problems high-schoolers face, and then explore methods to address those issues. The suicide last spring of an Eagle Valley High School student brought the topic to greater attention. The High School Attitude and Behavior survey findings report that despite only two adolescent suicides since 1996, Eagle County has a problem. The frequency of suicide attempts are particularly alarming, Reilly says. Among area high schoolers, 12.3 percent have attempted suicide, compared to 8.5 percent of high school students nationwide, says the federal Center for Disease Control Youth Behavior survey. Abuse of alcohol and other drugs have been linked to teen suicide, and is a significant indicator of potentially suicidal behavior, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has found. While Vail and Eagle County compare favorably overall to national levels of adolescent drinking, the major problems with underage drinking are grave: drunk driving and poor academic performance, among others, Reilly says. “The data reinforces the fact that most kids make good choices all the time,” she says.

Only 54 percent of Eagle County high school students have ever used alcohol, the survey says. The national level is nearly 50 percent higher, at 74.9 percent, according to the Center for Disease Control survey.Reilly says this fact should be a source of community pride. “We should all be proud of the kids,” she says. In addition, 60 percent of local teens have not consumed one or more drinks during a typical week over the past month, and 66 percent have not consumed five or more drinks at one time during the past month, which is consistent with the state level of 67 percent, says the Colorado Youth Survey. While these levels indicate most area students do not have a drinking problem, there is room for improvement. While fewer Eagle County high schoolers drink, the ones who do drink more and do it more frequently than the average American teen. The survey results have been fairly consistent over the past four years, Reilly says, but she expects them to change for the better after the next one in 2005 due to the influence of the Eagle River Youth Coalition’s programs, which have grown considerably over the past several years.

Global to localA native of St. Louis Park, Minn., Reilly first arrived in Vail as an 18-year-old who planned to ski for one year before she began college. But, she became attached to the area and community, and didn’t want to leave. She spent the next nine years arranging college classes around the ski season so she could return every winter. Reilly studied at the University of Minnesota, where she majored in maternal and child health, and earned her masters degree in public health. Her devotion to the well-being of others is rooted in a personal interest in international health, she says. And, after visiting a friend in El Salvador who was involved in Catholic Relief Services, she knew she wanted to help others for a career. Although originally interested in working on the global level, she has lately focused on Eagle County, where, she says, she finds the diverse population provides many opportunities to work in her field. However, her life’s work is not finished yet. “When I turn 59-and-a-half, I will return to international health,” she says. The United Way and Vail Valley Medical Center have been the largest funders of the High School Attitude and Behavior survey and Eagle county has made major contributions to the Eagle River Youth Coalition, she says.Matt Crane is a contributing writer to the Vail Daily.Vail Colorado


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