by Rick Langenberg:
The youth of southern Teller County may still not win the state’s top prize for model behavior But local RE-1 students and kids in the area are drinking less alcohol than their predecessors, smoking fewer cigarettes and engaging in less troublesome actions regarding substance abuse. In addition, they are participating in more school activities and hanging out with their parents more than their peers of 10 years ago. Still, southern Teller youth face big challenges in avoiding the growing temptation of smoking pot due to the legalization of medical cannabis. Plus, the schools have a big problem with kids staying enrolled in the RE-1 district.
These are some of the conclusions drawn from the latest report of the Gold Belt Communities Build A Generation (BAG) group, demonstrating major strides over the last decade in implementing a strategic plan. “It takes a generation to break this cycle (of problem behavior),” said Lisa Noble, the director of the Gold Belt Communities Build A Generation group, in touting much more positive youth-related statistics than past years, during a presentation before the Teller County Commissioners. Teller County has reaped the benefits of having two Build A Generation groups, which both try to combat youth-related problems.
The BAG project, which originally started as a way to fight an overall invasion of repeat prisoners in Colorado, has been in the works since the late 1990s. The Gold Belt Communities BAG, which focuses on the RE-1 school district area, has mainly tackled such problem areas as school dropouts, violence, delinquency, substance abuse and teen pregnancy by supporting programs that reduce the risks for local teens. According to the latest Gold Belt Communities outcome report, some of the highlights of the BAG achievements over the last decade include:
*A big reduction in the availability of alcohol for kids by 47 percent and a substantial 23 percent cut in actual alcohol use by RE-1 students.
*A 14 percent reduction in the number of 6th grade kids who took a puff of cigarettes in the last 30 days, based on a comprehensive Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.
*A nearly 10 percent increase in the number of kids who feel close to either their father or mother, or both, compared to 2001 findings.
*A 20 percent-plus hike in the number of kids who participate in sports, clubs and other school activities outside of classes.
*A definite decease in the number of kids who withdraw from the district due to their families moving out the area, or due to problems they may incur.
Noble attributed these successes to the commitment of the local BAG board, representing a wide spectrum of community leaders. Aspen Mine Center turns into major success story Plus, Noble put in a major plug for the Aspen Mine Center in Cripple Creek, which will soon celebrate its 10th-year anniversary. According to Noble, the Aspen Mine Center, which has already been recognized nationally, has emerged as the hub for services and resources in southern Teller. The center now provides such services as mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence assistance, food pantry, commodities, senior activities, public health, social services, Colorado work force outlets and help for kids of dysfunctional families.
The Aspen Mine, which once reigned as a casino, was donated to the Community of Caring by a New Jersey gaming group. It’s one-stop shopping model has become a major success story. Previously, residents in southern Teller had to travel to Woodland Park and Colorado Springs to access these services. Noble also credited the Cripple Creek City Council for their involvement with the Aspen Mine Center project and in supporting earlier efforts for a new grocery store. “If people can’t get groceries, they are going to leave,” said Noble, who complimented the city’s former Gold Camp Development Corporation for helping to make that project possible. As for more recent developments, Noble highly praised the city of Victor for the improvements that have occurred in the City of Mines. Victor has gained much notoriety in the last year and a half over innovative ways it has used to spruce up the community and renovate the town. In addition, its Gold Bowl Days, held once a month, have served as popular gatherings for local youth. According to Noble, many community members have exhibited much initiative in supporting programs that help local kids and keep them out of trouble. But the group still has many challenges.
One problem issue deals with growing teen marijuana use. The Gold Belt Communities group had much success in the fight against pot, until the furor over medical marijuana. As a result, reducing youth marijuana use is one area in which district statistics don’t show much improvement during the last decade. According to Noble, the group may re-initiate another anti-drug task force, formed previously to combat the growth of methamphetamine use. Only now, the group may focus on curbing marijuana use and opposing efforts to legalize pot statewide for recreational purposes. “We have already seen a marked increase in youth use due to the legalization of medical marijuana,” said Noble. But as a whole, the group leaders gave a stellar report, especially in lieu of earlier findings indicating southern Teller youth is at serious risk. In fact, southern Teller on a per capita basis was once regarded as one of the top areas of concern in the state. That’s not the case anymore. “The best outcome by far is that we have reclaimed our community,” concluded Noble. Her presentation sparked much interest among a handful of residents who regularly attend county commissioner meetings. They asked about having the North Teller BAG group, which represents the RE-2 school district area, make a similar report. “We have a lot of problems in the RE-2 School District,” said Deborah McKown of Florissant.
The commissioners, though, cautioned that each Build A Generation group has different goals and timetables. One key advantage of the Gold Belt Communities group is that they have had the same coordinator since they started. By comparison, the North Teller BAG group has featured four different coordinators. In addition, the commissioners told McKown they are more connected to Gold Belt Communities due to the fact that Noble has an office in the Centennial Building and is actually considered a county employee. That said, the commissioners agreed to ask the county’s North Teller BAG group (which represents Woodland Park and the RE-2 School District) to give an update of their progress.