Local addiction initiative stresses power of connections in lives of youth

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FARGO — Everyone deserves to have someone who cares about them, and that’s particularly true for young people making decisions about directions to take in life.

That message was the upshot of a gathering held here Tuesday, Aug. 28, that included parents, law enforcement officials and educators keen on finding ways to prevent and treat destructive addictions.

Hosted by the Dakota Medical Foundation, the event focused on the findings and recommendations resulting from a survey of Fargo middle and high school students that was done as part of LevelUp Fargo, a program that aims to boost ties within the community to help youth thrive.

Christie Rood, the program’s director, stressed that what the survey showed is that kids who lack connections in the community drift toward things like chemical addiction, while those with more connections tend to make better choices.

One place those connections are made is in the home, according to Rood, who suggested that one way to promote connections is for households to take technology breaks, in which phones and other devices are set aside to allow for face-to-face interactions.

“We’re missing a lot of opportunities to engage,” said Rood, who related anecdotes from her own family’s experience that underscored her message that young people appreciate adults taking time to truly be with them.

“They don’t want much, but they want us,” she said.

Former Fargo schools superintendent Jeffrey Schatz also spoke at the event, saying that while engagement is important for young people, research shows that young people can become overstressed by activities and responsibilities to the point they start to lose connectedness.

“That surprised us when we saw that,” Schatz said.

North Dakota’s first lady, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, spoke about the upcoming Recovery Reinvented conference set for Wednesday, Sept. 5, at the Fargo Civic Center.

She also shared some of her own history of addiction and stressed the importance of seeking help if it is needed, noting that only one in 10 addicts actually take such a step.

Rood said while it is important for adults to mentor and take other steps to help young people stay on the right course in life, students say they want to be there for others as well.

“They want an opportunity to help. They want to volunteer,” Rood said.