New World Café host Victoria Throop did an incredible job reporting on the first of two community-wide World Cafés organized by the Youth Awareness Coalition (YAC) in the beautiful and remote town of Valdez, Alaska.
Here’s how Victoria describes Valdez:
“We live at the edge of the mountains––on the sea. There is only one road going out of town. There are more than 10 bears for every person in these mountains and the salmon runs bring the bears out of the forest. Bald Eagles are everywhere. We are very isolated from the rest of the state. We have 6 feet of snow each year (Here’s a slide show of what it looks like in winter). The snow and wind often close the roads and airport. If we can get through the mountain pass, by car we are 5 hours from Anchorage and 6 hours from Fairbanks. This isolation is one reason that depression and suicide are community concerns.”
The Valdez World Café was introduced as a way for the entire population to come together and talk about the key issues and challenges that face them as a community. They scheduled the events for Fall 08 and Spring 09, with the first Café on National Family Day, September 22. The Café questions focused primarily on family health and well-being. Although the issues of suicide and isolation were not explicitly mentioned in the series of questions, it turned out they were part of the conversation at every table. As a result, the Spring World Café will focus explicitly on depression and suicide prevention.
Victoria and her team distributed flyers and ads designed to attract all sectors of the community. They wanted everyone to be represented and involved. These promotional materials are attached below, along with Victoria’s detailed report with statisics taken from the extremely informative exit surveys she did with Café participants.
Here’s what Victoria had to say about the World Café, in summary:
“It was a fantastic success. We had 20 families in attendance – 87 people that bridged a wide range of ages and socio-economic groups, and an amazing 17 volunteers that helped us that night. For a small community, that is a lot!
Our Family Day celebrations included a lovely catered meal with great door prizes to liven things up and set the mood. Our supporters were very generous and each child went home with a door prize!
Having it a family affair created an atmosphere of joy and reminded the adults that it is our job to create a healthy and safe community for these children.
People were very engaged in the conversations and several stayed past the two hours to
wrap up their conversations.”
This brief exchange came from a conversation Victoria overheard as she was walking around the room during the small group discussions:
“The question on the table was: “What makes a family strong? Is a strong family the same as a healthy family?”
The table group consisted of 3 men and a woman. All were professional and leaders of the community. One of the men at the table related a story about his wife’s family. He wondered how the same family can have 3 healthy daughters and one daughter who was so unhealthy.
Three of the daughters were professional women and the other bounced from job to job—in and out of rehab—but never could take care of herself. How could one family have three successes and one loser?
At this point, the woman in the group leaned forward toward him and interjected—“No one is a loser”. She stated that we all have times in our lives when things go bad for us, but that doesn’t make us a loser. She turned it around on him. “What could you do to help her improve her life?”
The man became angry. He said, “This isn’t about me.” He sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. She said, “If it is about your family—it is about you.” The other two were silent. It was as if the two speakers were totally alone in the room.
There were many interesting conversations, but this one seemed to focus on how baffling mental health issues are. And, how in a venue like this, people open up to express differing views.”
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Jason Floyd, the Executive Director of the Valdez Youth Awareness Coalition (YAC) was instrumental in finding the funds for this World Café, which was supported by community grants from Alaska Tobacco
Prevention and Control, SAMHSA Drug-Free Service and Alaska Behavioral Health.
Full Report with Surveys