Forming webs: Wellbeing Coalition provides support for youth, seniors 

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Even in the more affluent communities or high-performing school districts, young people and adults can struggle without enough support.

“Adversity doesn’t know a ZIP code, it doesn’t know a school system, it doesn’t know a neighborhood or a community,” said Kyle Miller, coordinator of social and emotional wellness for Westfield Washington Schools. “Adversity affects all of us. Our goal is how do we assure that every kid, every adult and every senior has a web, so when adversity comes, not if but when it does come, are we able to bounce off of that web and look to those that are supportive for us?”

Derek Peterson is a youth support advocate who gave a presentation about the importance of youth support in Westfield. (Photo by Mark Ambrogi)

Westfield launched The Wellbeing Coalition of Westfield earlier this year in a joint effort with the Hamilton County Community Foundation, Westfield Washington Schools and the City of Westfield. Mayor Andy Cook announced the formation in January 2019 during his State of the City address, but Miller said work had been going on prior to that.

Miller is on the core leadership team of the Wellbeing Coalition. In a move to increase awareness and motivate others to get involved, the organization brought youth support advocate Derek Peterson to Westfield Oct. 30 for a two-hour presentation. 

Peterson’s studies show that if a child has at least five positive, caring adults who have high expectations of them and provides unconditional love and support, they are more likely to succeed. Those can include parents, grandparents, teachers, counselors, coaches, church leaders, neighbors or anyone who might have an influence.

“We have similar work we are trying to do with building web support for kids, assuring that kids have a thick web,” Miller said. “I think it’s important for us to understand everyone needs a web, whether you’re a youth or adult or senior. That social connection is what gives us protective factors against all the things that come at us in life. It can mitigate the effects of trauma. It can mitigate the effects of depression and anxiety.

“If we are connected to one another, the likelihood of us hitting rock bottom significantly decreases.”

Westfield Middle School Principal Mike Hall said he has had the opportunity to work with Peterson for several years.

“I had studied his research to know what kids need to do to be successful,” Hall said. “At the middle school level, kids are able to say who is in their web. We have to educate kids to understand they are responsible to start to build their web.”

Hall said students will attend college and call and say they are homesick.

“Derek will say, ‘No, you are websick. You have to web yourself up,’” Hall said.

Hall said people with multiple individuals in their web are more likely to thrive.

“If you are thickly webbed, a very small number will fall through the cracks,” Hall said. “We believe that this is such a simple message that you can understand. What does my web look like? What do my kids’ webs look like? What do my neighbors’ webs look like?”

Laura Crum, manager of public outreach for the Westfield Township Trustee office, said she will use Peterson’s methods to help create ways to help adults and seniors.

“The Wellbeing Coalition is looking at the entire community and how to create the web of support effectively,” she said. “It’s a big thing to make sure everyone has someone to go to if there is an issue.”

Westfield Middle School Principal Mike Hall offers support to eighth-grade students, from left, Ruby Swartz, Lilly Tavarez and Audrey Ruprecht. (Photo by Anna Skinner)

Presentation makes points

As founder and principal director of the International Institute for Student Support, Derek Peterson developed the Student Support Card. 

Peterson, who gave his presentation at Grand Park Events Center in Westfield, employs several exercises to emphasize how community members can provide support for others. In one exercise, several balloons go up in the air, and it is up to all audience members to make sure they don’t fall. 

“You don’t want your person to fall to the ground,” Peterson said. “If he or she touches the floor, they are having a tough time. They could be in back of one of your squad cars. They could be kicked off your football team. They could be expelled from your school. It’s hard to fix broken people. It’s easier to keep them up.”

Peterson noted that Westfield Washington Schools is a high-performing district.

“You probably got kids that are thickly webbed (in support), but please don’t forget the kids who are having a hard time,” he said.

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