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Youth advocates are well aware of the challenges facing those who do not have the same coping mechanisms and support as their peers. The question is, what is to be done about it?

The answer is not clear-cut — and it will not come from only one source, Carlton Mason, executive director of Youth and Family Advocacy Services 7th Judicial District, said.

The organization, which includes CASA of the 7th Judicial District, is, with the Western Colorado Community Foundation and others, putting forth SPARC (Strategic Perspectives Accelerating Real Change) this weekend. The event brings together four different experts, each with a different life journey, to offer perspectives on better serving youths in the community.

There is a fifth, vital, expert — each and every community member, who is invited to attend and offer the insight from their own lived experiences.

“It’s hard to save where the conversation will go, because we have four diverse individuals looking at the issue of how do we better serve our youth and young people,” Mason said Wednesday.

When Mason speaks of serving youth, he means creating a better environment and community for their chances at success, particularly for those who may not have coping and processing skills similar to that of their peers.

“A lot of our young people are fine, because the parents are doing their job. But we still have a large number of young people trying to navigate what their purpose is and what’s life supposed to be,” Mason said.

Mason pointed to recent news about Montrose County’s suicide rates, which showed 11 residents this year have died by suicide and that in 2021, the community lost 23 people to suicide.

That information ought to rattle people, Mason said.

“It speaks to a crisis of connection. People with healthy connections generally find support, someone to talk to, figure out where to turn to process some of the challenges they see in life, whether it’s a kid or an adult.”

He said understanding people’s personal circumstances and life journey might help others in turn grasp what is driving issues, rather than just understanding that such issues exist.

“I don’t think all the therapists in the world are going to be able to address all the mental health challenges (overall). We need to figure out as a community how to create some support, some processes and ways to connect,” Mason said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”

Certainly, civic organizations and houses of worship do good work in that regard, but Mason said a larger and growing segment of the community is disconnected from family and peers as they struggle to navigate life.

“I think SPARC, when I think about the opportunities that come out of a program like that, I really hope we have an opportunity to listen. We emphasize the need for every voice to be heard, but I don’t think we’ve done the counterpoint where, (we ask) is anybody listening? We’ve got a lot of people talking — is anybody listening?” Mason said.

SPARC aims to bring together many diverse voices and figure out healthy responses to challenges.

The event is structured in a way to collect participant input as to challenges, but also, critically, how the community might improve.

“It’s not going to be a negatively focused event. It is about what opportunities are there as we listen, as we see the different paths that bring us to this situation?” said Mason.

Taking into account different views, even critical ones, is part of it all.

“I think we know a lot of what the challenges are, but I hope we can put a variety of perspectives on the table that allow us to challenge, maybe, all of this generated opinion. We all have an opinion. Sometimes, it’s good to have somebody come along and challenge those opinions,” he said.

SPARC’s presenters are Dr. Aixa Powell, an international consultant who works with CASA/Youth Family; slam poet, activist and author Caleb Ferganchick; Dr. Anna Mueller, a researcher, and Elizabeth Clark, licensed professional counselor.

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