HAZEL PARK — The Hazel Park Community Coalition is undergoing a change of leadership, but its vision remains the same.
The mission of the HPCC is to reduce substance use among youths and substance abuse among adults. The group also focuses on such topics as suicide prevention, teen dating violence, mental health advocacy and lifestyle wellness.
Previously, the organization was led by Carol Jackson. She is now leaving to join the Southeast Oakland Coalition.
“It was a wonderful experience, and then COVID hit and the school shut down. No students to talk to, no relationships to build. Even though it was a difficult time for everyone, I was determined to make our efforts still impact the students, families and staff regarding substance abuse prevention,” Jackson said. “I was able to concentrate on getting the word out to the students, parents and staff through social media. A huge thanks to the staff at Hazel Park IT Department who posted so many important messages, and of course, Dr. Amy Kruppe, the superintendent, for her trust and complete support.”
At press time, the interim executive director was Kelsey Dovico. She originally joined the HPCC in May as the youth programs coordinator, creating online yoga and meditation videos for local teens, running social media contests, rebranding the coalition’s Instagram account, restructuring the Youth Action Board, and connecting with other youth-oriented groups in Hazel Park. She has also been writing blog entries at the coalition’s website, www.hazelparkcc.org.
“I am proud of how Carol and I worked together to navigate the challenges of quarantine and make significant headway in rebuilding the coalition as a vibrant and strong part of the Hazel Park community,” Dovico said.
Sometimes the group’s work takes the form of educational outreach, but other times it’s about providing fun in a safe environment, such as a socially distanced Halloween party Oct. 30 for teens outdoors at Scout-McPherson Park in partnership with the Hazel Park Memorial District Library and featuring a DJ, circus performers and more.
“Our mission with the party is to offer teens a safe and normal-feeling Halloween celebration that promotes positive peer interaction and sober partying social norms,» Dovico said prior to the event. “If I was a teen during the era of COVID, I know I would personally have a really difficult time emotionally surviving so much social and physical isolation from my friends. We’re hoping that this party offers a feeling of normalcy and serves as a platform for reconnection and fun.”
She described some of the challenges facing today’s youth.
“The pressures on teenagers are greater today than they have ever been,” Dovico said, noting rigorous academic expectations as one challenge, and the pandemic’s financial squeeze on families as another.
“Uncertainty of what the future will bring looms over older teens in search of jobs, planning to embark on careers and considering college,” Dovico said. “Most notably, peer pressure and social judgments continue past school hours and churn on social media 24/7. Vicious cyberbullying and pressures to participate in harmful online challenges … literally stalk our teens and keep them in a state of heightened stress response.
“Finally, a significant population of Hazel Park students regularly vape, and many of them are addicted,» she said, noting that the group planned to address vaping addiction and tips for quitting in its November newsletter.
Many teens are also stressed by the dynamics of online learning, the new norm this year due to the pandemic. But there are ways for family, friends and neighbors to provide emotional support, she said.
“This prolonged period of quarantine and social isolation has brought about a spike in rates of anxiety and depression across the board, and particularly for young people,” Dovico said. “Community members can do some significant things to support the teens and young people in their lives. Reach out to the kids and teens in your life and ask them how they›re really doing. If you see a young person struggling academically, socially or emotionally, reach out to the counseling department in their school and ask about what resources are available to them. Encourage teens to adopt healthy stress coping skills and lifestyle habits. Finally, find ways to let them know that they are seen, heard and valued as individuals.”
Those who wish to get involved with the HPCC can start by following the group online on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, all at @HazelParkCC. Volunteer opportunities are currently available for socially distant and virtual projects. The HPCC is also eager to work with other groups in the community on collaborative campaigns. Charitable contributions are also appreciated.
“This fall, we have worked to bring weekly socio-emotional learning seminars to all students at Hazel Park Junior High from our parent organization, the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities. In a few weeks, I will give a special talk at the Student Leadership and Wellness summit on the topic of navigating mental health challenges in adolescence. We’ve also branched out online — I developed and wrote a brand-new website for the HPCC,” Dovico said, referring to hazelparkcc.org.
“We’re looking forward to new ideas of funding our coalition,” she added. “We are currently funded by a small grant from Oakland County, only enough to cover salary and a few programs a year. In order to expand staffing and programming, and ultimately our impact on the Hazel Park community, we need to find more expansive funding.
“We believe that positive social influences make a difference in the fight against substance abuse,” Dovico concluded. «We do not judge, ridicule or reprimand anybody for any reason. We do not pass moral or legal judgment on the status of substances, or on people who use or become addicted to them. We exist solely to help Hazel Park teens and families live healthy lives, from the inside out.»