Stick With Hope – Youth Led Mental Health Initiative

Article from MSSWA’s Liz Kruger Hommerding, MSW, LICSW

Stick with Hope is a youth-led initiative to advocate for mental wellness among youth through notes of encouragement. Lee began the initiative in 2017 after seeing youth with mental health issues drop out of school.     

“I started Stick With Hope to advocate for mental wellness among youth. I developed presentation scripts for middle school and elementary schools students that introduce them to depression, anxiety, and mental health stigma.  One way to reduce mental health stigma is for adults and youth to write simple hand-written notes of encouragement,” says Lee.

Read MSSWA Spring Newsletter (Page 19) – and learn how you can help share messages of hope!

Minnesota School Social Workers Association



Top 10 Prom Safety Tips

By: Gina Johnson, B.S., YSB Chemical Health Prevention Specialist

Prom is an exciting time for high schoolers and their parents!  

Keep in mind however, many teens face choices beyond what flowers to buy and which shoes to wear.  To help you and your family prepare for this event – here are some tips on making this night safer and unforgettable.
(Tips adapted from SADD, MADD and The Partnership for a Drug Free America)


#1 Talk to your teen about his or her plans.

  • Start talking now as prom plans are developing. Share in their enthusiasm but help them be practical.
  • Make sure your teen has a plan for before and after the dance. Discuss your rules and expectations.
  • Make sure you know all the details of the plan.

#2 Meet with the parents of your teen’s prom group.

  • Come to an agreement on curfew and pre and post-prom plans.
  • Ensure appropriate parental supervision for pre-and post-prom parties by talking to the host’s parents. Offer to help by bringing food to share, taking party pictures and helping to chaperone.
  • Ensure all teens in the group have the same plans.

#3 Discuss Driving.

  • Know who is driving and who their passengers are.
  • Insist on seat belt use, no illegal substances including alcohol in the car, no driving under the influence and absolutely no riding in a car with a driver under the influence.
  • If taking a limo, insist on a limo service that does not allow alcohol, tobacco or drug use by minors. Communicate directly with the driver about your expectations.

#4 Avoid hotel rooms post-prom.

  • A hotel party cannot be effectively supervised. A parent staying at the same hotel in another room isn’t enough.
  • A teen in a hotel room has no effective means of retreat if he or she feels uncomfortable with the group, the setting or the activities.
  • Hotel parties may include non-high school students who likely have very different agendas.
  • A hotel room setting increases the pressure on teens to have sex, party all night or partake in activities they may regret later.

#5 Discuss your school’s prom rules with your teen.

  • Make sure they understand the consequences for violating them.


#6 Remove or lock up alcohol and prescription drugs in your home.

  • The majority of the time teenagers drink or abuse prescription drugs they get their alcohol or medications from their own home or the homes of friends.
  • Make sure older siblings and other family members and friends know they are not to buy alcohol for your child.


#7 Agree on a curfew; touch base during the evening and be awake to talk to your teen when they get home.


#8 Communicate with your teen specifically about how he/she would handle difficult situations.

  • What should they do if they are offered a ride by an intoxicated driver, being offered alcohol or other drugs?
  • What should they say if they are being pressured to have sex?
  • Be sure to provide parental advice how best to deal with problems that may arise.
  • Keep your cell phone on until your teen has arrived home safely.
  • Have a code word if they want you to come get them out of a situation.


#9 Insist that there are to be no changes made to the prom plans without your approval and make that a firm rule with no exceptions allowed.


#10 Check in with your teen during the evening (remember that they will read a text before they will answer their cell) Have him/her check in with you at designated times, particularly pre and post prom times.


Tips adapted from SADD/MADD and The Partnership for a Drug Free America. For more information, visit,,

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Alcohol and Youth: What’s the big deal?

By Julia Geigle, MSW, LICSW 
YSB Chemical Health Specialist & Program Director

Underage substance use, whether it be marijuana, alcohol, or another drug can be a barrier to children leading healthy and fulfilled lives and transitionally successfully into adulthood.

As you may know, YSB has four school-based Chemical Health Specialists working to prevent and reduce youth substance use in each of the school districts they are contracted to work in: Districts 622, 833 and 834. Our staff help support youth as they face challenging decisions and peer pressure each day. But did you know our team also provides information and resources for parents?!

Because April is Alcohol Awareness Month, this seems like a relevant time to discuss the dangers of underage drinking and offer strategies to prevent and reduce youth alcohol use.

In recent months, there has been a lot of media attention on the rise of electronic cigarettes among youth, the legalization of recreational marijuana in more and more states, and the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic. While these are very important public health issues that warrant attention and resources, what seems to be missing from these conversations is the continued, widespread use of alcohol among youth.

The good news is that the rate of teen alcohol use has declined since the mid-1970s, however teens still drink alcohol more than they use any other substance. In fact, teen alcohol use kills 4,300 people each year – more than all illegal drugs combined. WHY?

Read More

“Talk, They Hear You”

From: Gina Johnson, B.A.,
YSB Chemical Health Prevention Specialist – District 833

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a Federal agency that leads public health efforts.

“Talk, They Hear You” is a campaign to educate parents on how and when to talk to their kids about underage drinking. Attached are 5 conversation goals for parents to talk to their kids! Find more resources at

Combating the ‘Need’ for Caffeine

By: Gina Johnson, B.S.
YSB Chemical Health Prevention Specialist

I need to have caffeine in my life.

Have you ever thought something like this to yourself or out loud? Well, you are not alone.  Caffeine has become “the socially acceptable mind-alerting drug.” That’s why March Is Caffeine Awareness Month.

Caffeine is a natural stimulant –  a type of drug that increases activity of the body, by alerting the brain and spinal cord (Central Nervous System).

There are multiple types of stimulants that you may be aware of like cocaine, amphetamines (Meth and Adderall), and caffeine.

Caffeine is naturally found in tea, coffee, and dark chocolate. It is now manufactured to be in energy drinks, jerky, weight loss medicine, waffles, gum, etc. The most common way Americans get their caffeine consumption is through coffee but the highest levels of caffeine are found in energy drinks.

There are many potential benefits to drinking caffeine such as; it may boost memory, increase alertness, and can even help with recovery after a work out.

There are also potential negatives, especially in youth.

Caffeine may produce mild symptoms like restlessness, an increased heart rate, and insomnia. In higher consumption it can lead to dizziness, racing of ones’ heart, dehydration, and may increase anxiety. Pediatricians recommend young children to avoid caffeine consumption and adolescents to limit their consumption to 100 mg (one regular cup of coffee) a day.

New research being published shows the relationship between heavy caffeine consumption from energy drinks in high school students and drug use, due to the developing adolescent brain. 

Caffeine use may prime the brain for later drug use.* This is because of our brain’s reward center. The brain becomes used to the levels and begins to crave more of the stimulant, ultimately leading to higher dosage.

Caffeine has positives and negatives, so it is important to observe how much someone under the age of 18 is consuming due to their developing brain.

Prevention Tip: There are a lot of natural ways to raise your energy level. These tips below can help adults and youth learn healthier alternatives to high consumption of caffeine:

  • An apple in the morning is said to have the same effect as one cup of coffee.
  • Exercise: Jump rope, yoga, dance, or go for a walk.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep
  • Morning shower. Blast yourself with cold water for 5 seconds at the end.

YSB Chemical Prevention Specialists also give classroom presentations to youth in local schools to educate youth about safe limits and offer alternative strategies to drinking caffeine for ‘energy’.

If you are interested in scheduling a Caffeine-related presentation in your community or youth group , call 651-735-9534  or email:



Substance Abuse: Perception of Social Norms

By: Gina Johnson, B.A.
YSB Chemical Health Prevention Specialist in South Washington County Schools (D833)

How many of you think the majority of your peers are drinking, smoking or doing some type of drug?” The majority of hands shoot up throughout the entire class.  

As the Youth Service Bureau’s Chemical Health Prevention Specialist one of my roles is to do chemical health presentations in the high school and middle school classrooms in South Washington County School District. Every presentation I ask the students if they think everyone in their grade is doing some type of drug. Their answers are almost always “yes.”

I ask the students this because of social norms: the perception of use vs the reality of use. Our perception of use has a great influence on our own attitudes and behaviors.

Unfortunately, our perceptions aren’t always right. Students and adults tend to overestimate the usage rates around them- and it’s important for youth to know that not everyone is doing it.

Read More

Juvenile Sex Trafficking- the Washington County Response

By: Peter Orput, Washington County Attorney, YSB Supporter and Guest Author

The selling of girls and boys for sex has been around for millennia.  This egregious scourge, however, has become far more common in the past several years to the point where it seems to be occurring frequently and everywhere.  The statistics are indeed frightening: 1 in 3 runaway children are lured into sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away. The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old.  Estimates put 1.2 million children being trafficked each year.  

What has driven this demand?  

Read More

YSB Adds *Responsible Social Media Use* Program!

Responsible Social Media Use (RSMU) is a new service YSB designed to help youth who are struggling to use social media in a healthy way.

RSMU was developed at the suggestion of YSB’s referring parties (local law enforcement, school resource officers, and parents) and ranges from 2-5 sessions that fit the individual needs of each youth.

Diversion staff meet with the youth and parent/guardian to hear from the family about their particular situation. Together with staff, families help determine the number of sessions needed and the focus.

Depending on the situation, sessions cover media use, social interactions, healthy relationships, consequences, positive decision making, building self-confidence, and setting goals.

Please contact our Offices to schedule RSMU or to find out more!

Learn more about ‘What We Do’

The Popularity of Snapchat

By: YSB Youth & Family Education Coordinator, Merri Guggisberg

Snapchat is a popular messaging app that allows users to exchange photos and videos that disappear after a set time or after the receiver closes it. 

Users can also exchange private chat messages that can be saved.  Remember a screenshot can be taken (sender receives notification if this happens but can’t stop the receiver from taking it). 

According to Snapchat terms of use – the user has to verify they are at least 13 years old, and if under 18, they need to have parental permission.  The user also agrees to grant Snapchat access to their address book and allows it to upload that information to its servers. 

FYI- users share private contact information on family and friends without their permission.

Why do teens use Snapchat SO often?

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Internal Overload: Stress vs. Anxiety

By: Rebekah Winschitl, M.A., LPCC
YSB Youth & Family Therapist

It’s just this time of year, they will perk up”, “Once finals are over they will be back to their old self”, “She is just moody because she is a teenager”, “He won’t do his homework or chores because he is lazy”, “She says she is sick so she can get out of doing things or going to school”, “All teens sleep this much, it is because they are growing”.

These are phrases often said by parents when their kids are acting different than usual. It is easy, and very common, to associate any change in mood or behavior on the child’s age, level of motivation, or attitude and there is evidence to support that this is the case.

Adolescents often do sleep more and have mood swings due to growth and changing hormones. School is often stressful which may alter a child’s mood. Children also begin to show defiance as they grow older as a way to explore and test the world. Although many of these things are considered to be “normal”, too much of them may be more harmful than we think.

It is important to notice how these typically normal changes are effecting your child’s daily life.

  • Are they sleeping so much that they are missing meals and not spending time with friends?
  • Are they sick often enough to miss multiple days of school a month?
  • Is there mood or behavior erratic to the point where they are getting into trouble, showing poor performance at school, or seem to never be happy?

If so, then there may be something a little more than the typical developmental changes going on with your child.

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