Brown County Congress featured youth program speakers who expressed the importance of helping the youth in Brown County feel like a valued member of the community.

Brown County Congress focused on youth programs throughout the county with presentors Kim Janke with the Underage Substance Abuse Coalition, Kari Beran with ProKinship For Kids, Mike Brigger with Healthy Communities/Healthy Youth of Brown County and Alisa Mangen with Brown County 4-H.

Each program expressed the importance of helping the youth in Brown County feel like a valued member of the community and how they work on that.

Mike Brigger, who spoke about Healthy Communities Healthy Youth (HCHY) said in a recent survey taken of the seven school districts in Brown County only one out of every four students surveyed said they felt that their community valued them.

“That means 75 percent of them didn’t feel their community valued them,” Brigger said. “It’s all about valuing our youth and empowering the potential and promise they have.” 

Brigger said HCHY has been around since 1979, but has gone under several names until becoming Healthy Communities Healthy Youth of Brown County in 2009. The organization started, Brigger said, when a group of concerned citizens in New Ulm were looking at the big picture for the youth in the community and wanted to provide safe and substance free opportunities for youth to gather to do something together.

Since that time the program has been involved with a book donation program in several communities in Brown County, is actively involved with the Underage Substance Abuse Coalition (USAC) in the process of putting together the first ever county-wide summit for youth and families on substance abuse to take place on September 28 at New Ulm High School.

In addition, HCHY has taken in active role in helping the youth become involved in several other organizations such as the United Way Back Pack program, Santa’s Closet, and a Day of Caring just to name a few.

“Our youth have thrown themselves into helping with those efforts so that adults in the community can see that the youth are so important to our communities,” Brigger said.

Kim Jahnke of USAC said there are several initiatives that the organization works on to reduce youth substance abuse.

“It’s not one program, ordinance or curriculum; its many things that have to work together to make change,”

Jahnke said of the success of the organization.

By the end of September, Jahnke said that over $1 million dollars has been spent in Brown County preventing underage substance abuse.

The organization does this by working closely with the seven school districts in Brown County on curriculum, promoting the Take Back prescription drug program and passing a Social Host Ordinance in New Ulm, Springfield, Sleepy Eye and Comfrey.

Kari Beran, director of ProKinship for Kids, spoke on the success of the youth mentoring program in Brown County.

Beran said the focus of ProKinship is to work with kids who need an extra support person in their life and building mentoring relationships.

This is accomplished, she said, by community based and academic mentoring programs. Currently Beran said there are 56 mentor matches both in the community based and academic mentoring program.

“Research shows us that for every tax dollar we spend on quality mentoring, we save $2.72 later on with reduced truancy rates, reduced high school drop out rates, reduced underage substance abuse, reduced juvenile crime rates, improve attendance and performance at school leading to increased graduation rates and lifetime learning,” Beran said.

Alisa Mangen the Brown County 4-H Coordinator, spent 14 years in the 4-H program before becoming the coordinator. She said that a study in 2011 showed that a large majority of students enrolled in the 4-H program don’t come from farms anymore.

Compared to the state average for club size, Mangen added, Brown County has some of the largest clubs in the state, offering programs to children ages kindergarten to one year in college on both a short-term and long-term basis.

“Each of us shared our passion, but we also want to create an atmosphere where you feel better about what’s going on in the county with our young people,” Brigger said. “There are a lot of good things going on.”