By Dee Ann Ryan
Dear fellow Vermilion County stakeholders,
In this time of senseless tragedy when we are all trying to determine what we can do for the families in Newtown, Conn., as well as our own community, the Vermilion County Mental Health Board (VCMHB) wants you all to know that we are trying to respond by taking a lesson from this situation and by taking steps to make sure our children and those who have committed their lives to tending to them are safe and secure.
We feel confident in our school and community leaders, knowing that safety is their first concern, and we know they have been reviewing local preparedness, practices, and responses. We as community members and stakeholders must also take this time to evaluate our systems, responses and readiness and to make sure that we are able to keep our children safe and to offer our troubled children every resource to keep them and the people around them safe.
Over the years, in light of situations such as these and in response to the growing social and emotional distress of some of our vulnerable children, we have met and we have developed and proposed solutions.
Many of these responses have endured and have probably saved lives, but many have gone by the wayside due to funding losses, unsuccessful grants applications, or personnel changes which have thwarted good intentions.
There have been several attempts to bring stakeholders together to discuss Safe Schools/Healthy Students federal grant applications only to find out that the federal money was not appropriated, and therefore, good intentions and good plans had to be set aside.
The Vermilion County Mental Health Board wants something positive to come from this recent tragedy by asking all who are in any position of authority and for any stakeholders who want to contribute to come together to offer suggestions, lend leadership and bring expertise, past knowledge, and common sense to the table. We need to feel confident that our children are safe in their homes, schools, and community activities and that children and adults who may be experiencing anger, confusion, and despair are able to access the support and help they need. We also need to be prepared, God forbid that anything of this nature happens again, to respond to a local tragedy in terms of offering support and counseling.
The VCMHB will be hosting a countywide town hall meeting after the first of the year to discuss our vulnerabilities and to brainstorm solutions.
We hope you will all be thinking of how you personally and/or your agency, church, school, or organization might contribute to making our county a safer, more organized and secure place to live and grow.
Please try to have a safe and happy holiday season and know that in the new year we have work to do.
Dee Ann Ryan is the executive director of the Vermilion County Mental Health Board.