Island Wide Youth Collaborative receives a major cash boost

Julie Fay, Martha's Vineyard Community Services executive director, will join the MVH board of trustees. — Michael Cummo

The Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC), an organization recently formed to serve the mental health and substance abuse issues of young Islanders, will receive a grant of up to $300,000 a year, for two years of programming, from the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation (Tower Foundation).

The mission of the IWYC is to provide comprehensive mental health care and substance abuse counseling for Island youth by better coordinating the efforts of Island clinicians and providing specialized training, along with increased outreach and prevention programs for young people and their parents. The Tower Foundation grant will be used to support those goals.

In an interview with The Times last week, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director Julie Fay said the IWYC was created in August, 2013, in response to a sharp increase in the demand for youth-oriented mental health services on the Island, and the lack of resources to handle it.

“We were packed with kids here at the Island center this past year,” Ms. Fay said. “The high school was dealing with a lot of issues like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and carving [self mutilation]. Overall our inpatient psychiatric hospitalization rate for adults and children on the Vineyard is four times greater than on the mainland. The admission rate for adolescents on the Island is a little over three times greater.” According to Community Services statistics, from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014, there was an 18.4 percent increase in inpatient psychiatric admissions for children under 18 years old. In that same time period, there was a 39 percent increase in the number of psychiatric evaluations done at Martha’s Vineyard hospital emergency services.

Letter hit home
Ms. Fay said that the impetus for the creation of the IWYC came in part from a letter from a concerned parent. “This really hit home for me when I got a letter from Jan Burnham, who wrote so poignantly about the situation,” Ms. Fay said. “We sat down a year ago last summer to talk about it. As we looked into it, it became very clear there was a paucity of services for the young people on Island.”
The IWYC is comprised of members from the Martha’s Vineyard public schools, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA, the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force and private practitioners.

Ms. Fay said the group coalesced quickly. “As we started to talk as a group it became clear that we all worked with a lot of the same kids and same families but we weren’t working in concert with each other, which was not productive,” she said. “We decided we had to do something about it, and we formed the IWYC and applied to the Tower Foundation for funding.”
The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, based in Getzville, New York, awards grants to improve the lives of young people in the places where members of the Tower family have lived and worked. Most grants go to organizations in western New York (Erie and Niagara counties) and eastern Massachusetts (Barnstable, Dukes, Essex, and Nantucket counties).

“There were two Tower Foundation grants to apply for, one for mental health and one for substance abuse issues,” Ms. Fay said. “Since we have such high demand for both services, we decided to apply for both. We didn’t know how they would react, if they thought we were being greedy, because we were also asking for the maximum award for both.” The Tower Foundation contacted Ms. Fay in early May and asked for a meeting. Martha’s Vineyard hospital CEO Tim Walsh volunteered the hospital conference room so the meeting could be held via teleconference, thus enabling all founding members of the IWYC to attend. Tower Foundation representatives were duly impressed, and gave the IWYC proposal directly to Tower Foundation trustees. They also sent a consultant to the Island in late July. A group that included the IWYC founding members, representatives from the public schools, the YMCA,  the Dukes County sheriff’s department, Oak Bluffs police department, parents, and clinicians, all met with the Tower Foundation representative to show their support for the newly minted organization. “The fact that all these people came together, with two weeks notice, in the busiest part of the summer, was extraordinary,” Ms. Fay said.
The good news
Representatives from the Tower Foundation called Ms. Fay on October 1 with their decision. “They said we can have up to $200,000 for two years and if you meet your goals we will extend it,” she said. “We were blown away.”

The newly funded IWYC program will serve Islanders aged 9 through 26, according to Ms. Fay. “We’ll have a program manager and web presence that will maintain all the youth-oriented events on the Island, recreational, substance abuse, mental health, school-based events, whatever is going on,” she said. “We’re going to drop the barriers for these young people to get help. We have a good cadre of clinicians on the Island. But there’s not a lot of collaboration between them. We’ll erase that and really have people working together.”

Ms. Fay said the IWYC will also take an active, non-medical approach to helping its clients. “We’ll design a service plan for what he or she needs,” she said. “It may be employment, volunteer jobs, a therapeutic mentor, whatever the needs may be.”

Helping those who help
The IWYC will also conduct an Island-wide survey of mental health clinicians on the Island to determine the specialties of each, so that programs can be more accurately developed for IWYC clients, and so that clinicians can be sent off Island for training in these areas. “They’ll come back well trained for that specialization and how to deal with that kid and his or her family,” Ms. Fay said. “Over the course of their training, they’ll meet the top experts on the topic. So if a kid with an eating disorder is at the point where he or she needs hospital-based care, the [newly trained] clinician will know the best place to refer them. It will save the parents the stress of trying to figure that out on their own.”

Ms. Fay said clinicians will gain advanced training in a wide range of issues, including carving, sexual abuse, and even the return of a deployed sibling or parent with a brain injury or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once the clinicians are back on Island, they will have monthly consultations with their trainers via teleconference for advice on specific cases.

Parental outreach
Ms. Fay stressed that a critical component of IWYC services is reaching and working with parents. “We want to work hand in glove with parents,” she said. “That’s crucial to the process. You can’t successfully deal with one without dealing with the other.”

Ms. Fay said there’s a certain boundary schools have to operate in if they have concerns about a student, but they can talk to a parent, who now can come to the program manager at IWYC. “Mom’s probably picked up on it as well and has probably been in front of a computer screen every night trying to figure out what to do,” she said.  “Parents go to each other. It might be in the stands of a lacrosse game, asking each other what to do, say about their son smoking pot. That conversation is what we want to bring into a more informed setting with the IWYC. We’ll be asking parents to come to us with their concerns. We’ll also be holding monthly forums at the YMCA on a particular topic. We can guide the parents to where they can be helped.”
Ms. Fay is optimistic that the IWYC can help reduce the number of crisis cases on the Island. “Between prevention, earlier intervention, and responding earlier to situations before they become critical, I think we will really be able to roll back the hospitalization rate,” she said. “The IWYC is going to fill in a lot of the blanks. The Red House coming on line will also be a big help.” The Red House is new crisis intervention center at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Although the IWYC is not yet up and running, parents who are concerned about their child’s mental health or substance abuse issues can contact Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Island Counseling Center at 508-693-7900.