Mental health matters — that’s why the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation is hiring two new mental health counselors to serve Enumclaw School District students for the coming school year.
Although the counselors are expected to be hired by the end of May, this has been a three-year process, starting when the local nonprofit performed a 2018 Middle School Needs Assessment for both ESD and the White River School District.
According to the results of that assessment, the Wellness Foundation saw that “far and away the greatest need was in-school mental health counseling,” said Director Sara Stratton.
That same year, the state Department of Health performed its own Healthy Youth Survey, interviewing local eighth, 10th, and 12th graders about depression and anxiety.
That survey revealed that 28 percent of Enumclaw School District eighth graders, 48 percent of 10th graders, and 39 percent of 12th graders reported feeling “sad or hopeless for at least two weeks” in the past year.
Similarly, 38 percent of eighth graders, 57 percent of 10th graders, and 54 percent of 12th graders reported being “not able to stop or control worrying” in the past two weeks prior to when they took the survey.
The survey also asked these students about whether they considered or attempted suicide.
According to survey results, 8 percent of eighth graders, 22 percent of 10th graders, and 23 percent of 12th graders made a suicide plan in 2018; 6 percent of eighth graders, 16 percent of 10th graders, and 11 percent of 12th graders actually attempted suicide that year.
Although the data is a little dated, Stratton and the RFWF believes that the numbers have only increased, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, despite these survey results, the Enumclaw School District has had trouble securing funding for additional mental health counselors on its own; according to Stratton, that’s at least partially because the district doesn’t have enough students on free- or reduced-lunch services.
“Most large grant opportunities require that,” she said. “So it’s been a real challenge in our community for a long time.”
Earlier this year, though, the city of Enumclaw stepped in with a funding opportunity for the Wellness Foundation. Originally, council members asked the nonprofit to take over the Enumclaw Youth Center, but RFWF believed the $40,000 earmarked for the Youth Center would best serve the community’s youth if it was redirected to fund in-school mental health support for students that need immediate help.
“We have great agencies in our community, specifically Valley Cities and the YMCA… that offer some in-school counseling from time-to-time,” Stratton said in a later interview with the Courier-Herald. “While they’re great services, there’s some barriers to access for students — either they need to leave school campus, go off-site, or even when they offer it in school, there can be a waiting period until they can receive services because of various billing steps and obstacles.”
While some students can afford to wait for mental health services, other cannot, Stratton continued. Unfortunately, $40,000 is just not enough to hire a full-time counselor.
Luckily, the RFWF has found other funding partners in the Plateau community, including the city of Black Diamond ($10,000), Mutual of Enumclaw ($10,000), and the Milgard Family Ruth Foundation ($10,000). Along with individual donations, which includes the recent GiveBig campaign that raised another $10,000, RFWF raised enough money to hire two counselors, roughly $120,000.
“These counselors will have dedicated counseling space in the schools, and they’ll work with the school staff — predominantly the school’s guidance counselors, but also teachers and other staff — to field student referrals and be able to serve them immediately,” Stratton said, adding that the plan is to have one counselor field both middle schools, and the second focus solely on Enumclaw High.
“This could change, based on the skill sets and experience and opinions of the counselors that we onboard,” Stratton continued.
Of course, the Wellness Foundation wants these counselors to be in local schools for more than just one year.
“Multiple of these funding partners have voiced interest in continuing [the program],” Stratton said. “From our perspective, we don’t want to do a ‘once-and-done’ solution. We want an ongoing, sustainable solution.”
Dr. Shaun Carey, superintendent of the Enumclaw School District, thanked RFWF in an email interview.
“We are grateful that our partners with the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation are willing and wanting to invest in the mental well-being of the students of ESD. The two counseling positions will provide much needed support to our students with social, emotional and mental health needs, which in many cases existed prior to the COVID pandemic and were exacerbated by the last 14 months of less than normal circumstances,” he wrote. “It is a wonderful gift when our community partners are able to provide assistance like this.”
OTHER RFWF NEWS
Throughout the pandemic, the Rainier Foothills Wellness Foundation had to shift how it provided services to the Plateau.
Now that more people are becoming vaccinated, though, services are looking to get back to normal.
For example, the Full Bellies program — which provides a hot meal to anyone in need on Thursdays at Calvary Presbyterian — had to shift from sit-down meals to take-out. Stratton said the program is looking to resume sit-down meals in the very near future.
Additionally, the pandemic forced the RFWF to stop delivering hot meals to seniors at their homes, and had to deliver mostly frozen food instead; Stratton said she’s hoping to resume hot meal delivery by July.
And even though the winter holiday season is half a year away, the annual Holiday Fantasy fundraiser is already being planned, and will look a bit different than past years.
Traditionally, Holiday Fantasy was held at Emerald Downs, and was a purely in-person event. Of course, last year, the fundraiser had to be 100 percent online.
This year, though, Holiday Fantasy is planned to be held at the local Thunder Dome Car Museum, and will have both in-person and online auctions in order to combine the best of both worlds, Stratton said.
Finally, the May 7 Cruise Enumclaw event recently raised around $2,700 for the RFWF’s Neighbors Feeding Neighbors services, which includes the Full Bellies program, the senior hot meals program, and the student backpack program, which gives backpacks of food to local students in need.