Hastings program spurred by suicides becomes 'web of support' for youth

  • Article by: LIALA HELAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2013 - 2:00 AM

Helping Kids Succeed the Hastings Way continues despite changes in leadership.

In Hastings, the notion that “it takes a village to raise a child” has morphed into “every child needs a personal village.”

After a string of youth suicides and deaths late last year, city and school leaders worked to educate the community on keeping children safe and resilient.

What grew out of those efforts is an intensive program that not only addresses how to bounce back after disappointments and hardship, but also works on the roots of what helps youth succeed in all aspects of life.

Helping Kids Succeed the Hastings Way, born in January, involves building a support system made up of five adults for every child. The hope is that this “web of support” will give young people resilience and enrich their “developmental ecology,” among other things.

The program — led by Derek Peterson, an international youth advocate — has been measured to be effective in entire states and countries worldwide. Peterson, a Minnesota native, for the first time is taking his work to a citywide level after implementing the program elsewhere for the past 30 years.

“Hastings is a healthy community. I don’t usually get to work in high-functioning communities,” Peterson said. “I get called in when people are in trouble. I’ve worked where folks are struggling. Hastings is a really neat place.”

Still, he says, every community can benefit from this type of education.

The adults play various roles including parenting, teaching, ministering, mentoring, guiding and coaching the child to meet high expectations.

“The primary measurement is that they bounce back from adversity,” Peterson said. “With this support, they’re far more likely to bounce back after disappointments, tragedy, illness or whatever comes their way.”

The United Way of Hastings, Hastings Public Schools and the Hastings Police Department are the main sponsors.

With recent and upcoming changes in leadership, some worried that the program, which has already involved 100 students, would dwindle away. People who were heavily involved in leading the program — those representing the police department, United Way and a local church — recently changed jobs and left the program. But others have stepped up.

“Others may have been awakened because they see the value in Helping Kids Succeed and they don’t want to see it fall by the wayside,” said Mari Mellick, executive director of United Way of Hastings.

Hastings native and recent graduate of Hastings High School Treya Connell is the coordinator of connections, working until she goes off to college later this year. She “sees the web that was created around her and by her” and developed a passion for helping youth, Peterson said.

Hanah Martin, a 2013 Hastings High School graduate, is also involved in the project because “she knows what it is like to not feel connected.”

Leaders are collecting ideas from the community on how to build connections to put together a book called “The Hastings Way.” It will include 2,500 contributions from community members. Peterson hopes it will be out by March.

Relationships with adults are successful when there are “connecting activities” where the adults are heavily involved in the child’s life.

“There’s a lot of segregation between ages,” Peterson said. “We have to end this segregation between youth and adults.”

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