Alger Co. collaborative effort working to help youth survive, thrive

A program supported by the Alger County Community Collaborative brought a member of the Michigan State Police to talk with students about cyberbullying and how to confront it. (AC3 photo)

By Joseph Zyble
The Alger County Communities That Care, also known as AC3, is preparing to hold its fourth annual “It’s All In The Barn” celebration. The event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 3 to 8 p.m. at the MSU North Farm in Chatham.
While the farm-to-table event has been described as a celebration of many of the good things Alger County has to offer – bountiful food, great music, community fellowship and all sorts of fun – the fundraiser is also part of an effort to help communities in the region address some very serious issues.
AC3’s stated mission is to prevent and reduce youth substance abuse, underage drinking and other linked problem behaviors through increased collaboration for community-level change. It also works to address issues affecting adults.
Some of the organizations that make up AC3 include the Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft Health Dept., Pathways Community Mental Health, MSU Extension, the Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Commission on Aging and schools throughout the county.
Alger County schools include Burt Township Schools in Grand Marais, AuTrain-Onota Schools in Deerton, Munising Public Schools in Munising, Superior Central School in Chatham, and the Munising Baptist School in Wetmore.
To help assess students’ needs the collaborative conducts biannual surveys. The survey is part of the Communities That Care program, a solution-focused, evidenced-based program that the collaborative adopted in 2014. This year will mark the fourth time the survey will be conducted among students.
“That survey is a road map. It’s what our kids are telling us that they need,” said Mary Jo O’Halloran-Torongo, AC3 coordinator.
The youth surveys are expertly processed and compiled by the University of Washington. Next, the survey results are evaluated alongside local health department data on indicators such as substance abuse, violence, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school dropout rates, depression and suicide.
“Aside from the surveys we tap into all available resources to make sure we’re getting a clear picture of what’s happening with our young people,” O’Halloran-Torongo said.
One of the top priorities that has consistently been identified throughout the years is depression in young people.
“We’re finding rates above the national norm for depression and anxiety, and that’s throughout the peninsula. Depression is one of the leading causes of suicide,” she said.
Also, O’Halloran-Torongo noted that while many Alger County youth indicate that they are avoiding substance abuse now, they report that they intend to use these substances when they’re older.
“Kids don’t see the risk of using drugs and alcohol. They say they plan to use after they graduate. So we have programs that target these issues,” she said.
The collaborative has brought in several guest presenters to help encourage students. One speaker was Kevin Hines, a man who survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Hines now devotes himself to giving talks to help others stay on guard against depression and to avoid suicide. Another speaker, who addressed the students via a live Skype telecast, was Lisa J. Klein, director of the well-regarded documentary on suicide, “The S Word.” AC3 also brought in David Clayton, the youth outreach coordinator for the national organization Families Against Narcotics. Clayton shared his personal story of recovering from addiction with the youth to encourage them to avoid making the mistakes he made.
“He shared a powerful story of his own demise from substance abuse, but then how he was able to rise from the ashes, like a Phoenix and escape. He stressed to that he was very lucky to have survived,” O’Halloran-Torongo said.
Through its research, the AC3 realized that there was a strong need for schools in the area to have a social worker on staff to provide support to students. The collaborative hosts several fundraisers throughout the year (including All in the Barn), to help support the cost of having a social worker present in the schools.
“We’re in our third year of raising monies for schools to support this service,” O’Halloran-Torongo said. “We have great kids in Alger County with lots of strengths, but they’re no different than other kids throughout the state and nation. The have real struggles as well.”
Last year, social worker Erin Beaupied was working with students in three of the Alger County schools. This year she’ll be working full-time at just one school: Superior Central.
“Being full time in one school, I will be able to work with students more often, outside of IEP’s (individualized education plans) and crisis situations. I am looking forward to social skill groups and helping students build skills both in and out of the classroom,” Beaupied said. “The need for school social workers is huge! Our students are coming in with more and more on their plates, at younger ages than we’ve seen previous. I feel privileged to help serve our community by helping our kids gain skills they need and connect families to resources if necessary.”
Other fundraisers organized by the collaborative include Bagels to Believe In, held in February with the support of Bay Furnace Bagel in Munising; Pizza With A Purpose, a May event made possible by Pictured Rocks Pizza; Pub With A Purpose, held in June with support of the Village Pub in Chatham; and Cooking Carberry’s, an event held in conjunction with the Alger Parks and Recreation Department summer concert series in Munising. During the recent August 13 concert, sales of the Cooking Carberry’s Wood-Fired Pizza were donated to support the mission of AC3.
O’Halloran-Torongo noted that the schools also collaborate with match funding resulting in Munising Public and Superior Central each receiving $12,000, and Grand Marais receiving $6,000).
Another effort coordinated by AC3 is the Career Fair offered for students in seventh through ninth grades. The Career Fair provides the students an opportunity to start making plans for the future.
“Our kids get a chance to see what’s available, what schooling they’ll need, and also about the kind of financial resources that are available to them,” she said.
In addition to working on youth issues, AC3 also has a committee that works to address adult needs.
“This group works with suicide prevention among adults,” O’Halloran-Torongo said. “We have a higher than average suicide rate among adults in the U.P.”
This committee has been instrumental in getting peer recovery coaches to help adults recovering from addiction maintain sobriety. Another service it provides is to give at-risk adults gas cards for fuel so that they can attend their medical appointments.
“These are just the tip of the iceberg. AC3 is a rocking and rolling group and there’s a lot of good things going on to support our communities,” she said.

Business owner shares why she supports the efforts of AC3
“My father made it his mission to help the people here in Munising. (See obituary for Dennis “Fuzzy” Boyak at the Bowerman Funeral Home website to fully understand this).  It’s one thing to lose a loved one, but to suicide, you are left with this guilt, always wondering why; it’s a horrible thing for a family to go through.  As the days and years went by I saw my best friend lose his 16-year-old nephew and then his dad to suicide, next my cousin and then it hit my teenage boys as they lost a classmate. I knew that it wasn’t just our family going through this. It was time to start talking about it. Depression does not discriminate; whether you’re young or old, having depression can kill you.
When my friend Deb introduced me to Mary Jo and Bobbi (of Alger County Communities That Care), I knew we had the perfect team to start Pizza with a Purpose. The only thing I asked was that we focus on getting a trained counselor in the schools. These kids don’t have a chance if there is no help available to them.
The AC3 team has done wonders for this community. They are getting awareness out, truly reaching people and letting them know there is help. I’m so proud of them, and I know my father would be proud.
I never took his death in vain. He had depression and tried so hard to fight it, along with trying to hide it. He didn’t want people to know because most people don’t understand it. So, I decided I can sit back and hide it as a survivor or I can make it my mission to talk about it.
AC3 is thriving; because of the team work and the care for people’s mental health, they will do wonders.”


The All In The Barn fundraiser at the MSU North Farm is held in a massive barn built in the 1890s. “It’s like a cathedral in there,” said Alger Communities That Care coordinator Mary Jo O’Halloran-Torongo. The event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 3 to 8 p.m. Organizers urge the pubic to purchase tickets in advance as there may be limited availability of tickets at the door. (AC3 photo)

Old-fashioned country celebration raises funds for a good cause
The Alger County Community Collaborative will host its fourth annual “It’s All In The Barn” celebration on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 3 to 8 p.m. at the MSU North Barn in Chatham. The public is invited to this old-fashioned, farm-to-table celebration, which features good food, live music, dancing, a raffle, pie and cake auction, and end-of-summer fun.
Granny Fox and the Farm Hands Band will provide live music. Also, the Morris Dancers troupe will give a performance of traditional-style dance. Everyone will be invited to take part in the contra/square dancing. The event will also feature kids tents and games, sponsored by the Great Start Collaborative.
Organizers recommend purchasing tickets in advance as ticket availability may be limited at the door. The cost to attend the event is $25 for adults, $15 for children ages 12 years and under, and it’s free for children ages five and under.
Tickets are available at The Brownstone Inn, AuTrain; Mama Cow’s, Chatham; Marquette Food Co-op, Marquette; Alger Parks and Recreation Dept., Munising; Falling Rock Café & Bookstore, Munising; and the Peoples State Bank of Munising.
“All In The Barn is so much fun! People really need to come and check it out,” said Mary Jo O’Halloran, an organizer of the event. “The 1890s barn at the MSU farm is amazing; it’s like a cathedral inside. Looking at the architecture it’s hard to believe people were able to build it without the technology we have now.”
All proceeds from the event are used for suicide prevention efforts and to help sustain social workers at schools in Alger County. For more information, contact Alger County Communities that Care at (906) 202-2244 or (906) 202-2197.

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