Safeguard our Students

Dear Fellow Parent,
I have two daughters in our Mercer Island schools. They are active in sports, band and philanthropy, academically focused and socially engaged. Like all busy kids on Mercer Island, they feel anxious, worried or glum from time to time. My husband and I are so grateful the YFS counselors are located on every campus, looking out for our children and yours.

I made a $200 donation in support of the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services licensed mental health counselors in our schools. Please donate now and join me at whatever level you are able to contribute.

Students are 21 times more likely to access mental health services when counselors are located in schools. We are very lucky to have a counselor in every school.

About four million 9 to 17-year-olds have mental health disorders resulting in significant impairment at home, at school and with peers, according to a report of the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health. At least one in five children and adolescents has a mental health disorder, and one in ten has a serious disorder. Mental health disorders affect students’ ability to succeed in school both academically and socially (American School Counselor Association). As a country, we have witnessed the devastation wrought by suffering youth who turn their pain outward by using guns in schools against others and on themselves.

People with mental disorders represent over 90 percent of deaths by suicide. The Center for Disease Control ranks suicide as the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults (ages 10-19). For every young person who dies by suicide another 100–200 make a suicide attempt. This predicts that three students in a typical high school will attempt suicide each year. Mercer Island is not immune and, given intense pressure to succeed, may present a higher risk. Fortunately, our schools, with help from YFS counselors, have policies and procedures in place to assess the risk of, intervene in, respond to and prevent youth suicidal behavior.

These staggering statistics underscore the importance of being in tune with students’ mental well-being beginning in elementary school throughout high school. YFS school counselors, along with other specialized instruction support personnel, are equipped to identify behaviors that could signal something serious. They sit with our children at lunch, teach stress reduction techniques, observe behavior in the halls and consult with teachers who sense when something might not be right with a student. YFS counselors also play a key role in implementing suicide-prevention and mental-health policies that are critical to creating a safe school environment for everyone, including by training students to identify worrying signs in their friends and to report that behavior confidentially to a responsible adult.

Mercer Island Youth & Family Services (YFS) is here for every student and family:
YFS mental health counselors work collaboratively in all six Mercer Island Public Schools, ensuring every student and family gets the help they need. YFS counselors in schools have been serving Mercer Island children for a combined total of 99 years! This longevity with students and families develops important relationships and supports everyone through their education journey – elementary to middle, then high school and beyond. My high school senior occasionally still spends an early release day to visit Harry Brown at IMS to talk about skiing and life. Such is the impact that these counselors have over a lifetime. Click to see all counselors.
• MIHS: Cathy Gentino – 30 years
• MIHS: Chris Harnish – 22 years
• IMS: Harry Brown – 17 years
• Northwood: Laura Falsgraf – 13 years*
• Lakeridge: Julie Mattson – 11 years
• Island Park: Liana Montague – four years
• West Mercer: Anna Orton – two years
*Laura moved from West Mercer to Northwood when it opened Fall 2016

YFS counselors often become the central hub for student well-being, bridging together parents and students, teachers, administrators and sometimes outside resources. YFS licensed professionals:
• Recognize the warning signs of various mental health disorders
• Describe how to address the mental health needs of students by providing direct services, accessing community resources, and working with school staff and community service providers
• Implement suicide-prevention policies
• Identify best practices for schools to protect the mental health and safety of all students

YFS depends on our private donations – please donate now.
As a Department of the City of Mercer Island, YFS receives only 20%-34% of its funding from the City of Mercer Island’s biennial budget, depending on thrift shop profitability. Thrift Shop proceeds, grants and community donations cover the rest. The City projects significant funding deficits that can no longer be bridged with one-time fixes; the contingent budget prepared for 2019-20 if the Prop 1 Levy Lift does not pass in November eliminates two full-time elementary counselors starting September 2019. This is in part why your donations now are vital to maintain all YFS programs and services, particularly the licensed mental health counselors at all six public schools.

With our collective support, YFS will continue to be there when our students need them and will grow with us as our Mercer Island population grows. I hope you will join me by making a financial contribution – large or small – as your budget permits. Building a foundation of mental health for all our students will help them thrive now and throughout their lives as they face the challenges of adulthood.

Jody Kris
President, Mercer Island Youth & Family Services Foundation
P.S. I hope you will consider making a gift to support YFS. Your gift today will make a difference in the mental well-being of our young Islanders.