by Annette Hinkle
Christine Epifania, executive director of Alternatives Counseling Services which presents the 2013 Kids Exploring Healthy Alternatives Conference at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse in Bridgehampton this Saturday.
What age group is Saturday’s event geared toward?
We’re focusing on ages 6 to 11. This conference isn’t geared toward any one group of children. We’re not looking to label or target groups and we didn’t target this specific group of kids, but we are looking for community engagement.
We’re in several schools on the East End, both on the North and South Fork and we know that starting about five years ago when the economic downturn happened we were doing anti-drug and anti-bullying work and we found that kids as young as 6 to 10 were stressed out and concerned about their parents.
I guess a lot of parents don’t realize that their kids also struggle with the stress the adults are facing.
On top of what we’ve already talked about, there is also stress due to the new Common Core Standards. Looking at the research we got, we became concerned knowing there are some risk factors for early use of drugs and alcohol. We wanted something to offer the community to help the kids.
What sorts of activities will be offered to the kids on Saturday?
We look at alternative things even adults do to de-stress and have fun. So we’ll have musicians, artists, movement people and yoga people so can we make a fun day for kids, knowing full well children need an alternative also.
[Sag Harbor Elementary School teacher] Nancy Remkus will be doing singing and we’re going to be doing drumming and art workshops, also Qi Gong which is a type of movement. We’ll be doing peaceful communication and storytelling and Nancy is thinking about doing a songwriting workshop. It’s a way for youth to express themselves. Some kids might do that with words, some with movement and for some, it’s visual. We want to offer things to youth and let them explore.
Is there a reason you’re focusing on this particular age group?
We could also do this sort of program with older and younger kids, but we focused on this age group as a first event. One thing we’ve observed is there’s a big jump when kids go from elementary to middle school, so we wanted to begin to get to them as young as we could. That was the underlying notion of this program.
We also want to go beyond being in the schools. We need to go into the communities, the libraries, the senior centers and the congregations. We decided to roll this out through the faith based community, starting the Unitarian Universalists first.
So the idea is to show kids there are positive outlets for dealing with the stress they may face down the road?
If you put in protective factors throughout the community, that helps kids across the board. Again, we’re not targeting these specific kids, but if we begin as a community to address things children and youth face as they grow, it’s a good thing.
We also want to make connections to all community groups that help raise our children. This is the place where kids can turn to when they have a problem.
Is this program modeled on another that you’ve seen elsewhere in the country?
No, it’s our brain child and based on what I’ve experienced throughout the years. It’s about treatment as well as prevention. You have to give kids the resiliency to give up things that are unhealthy. The more they integrate this when they’re younger, the better off they are. It’s building resiliency skills and the more connected kids are to teachers, themselves and their parents, the better they’re able to meet the goals of childhood to adulthood.
We also want to begin the conversation with parents about prevention and what can be helpful. It’s on a lot of parents’ minds as they read about alcohol and heroin problems. We’re saying we can bring a foundation that is helpful and fun.
“Exploring Alternatives — A Fun Day For Kids” ages 6 to 11 runs from 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday, December 7 at the meetinghouse of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, 977 Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton. To register call 283-4440.