CITC’s suicide prevention efforts start with teaching the youngest kids how to cope
A group of children is taking turns smashing an apple against the floor. One child hits the apple. The next flings insults at the apple.
With the next apple, the children say nice things. They compliment the apple and treat it with care.
The activity isn’t some strange fruit ritual. It’s a lesson in bullying.
“After they treat the two apples differently, we cut open both apples, and the kids can see how the bullied apple is bruised on the inside,” explained CITC Prevention Coordinator Alicia Adair, who works with kids aged 5 – 12 at NeighborWorks Alaska, one of several CITC partners now receiving prevention and youth development services from CITC Recovery Services’ youth program.
“The kids were able to have a two-hour conversation about how someone can look fine on the outside but be hurting on the inside. That kind of hands-on example really hits home with them.”
At NeighborWorks, Alicia engages kids in games — like the apple activity — that make bullying real to them. It’s part of the CITC Prevention and Youth Development program’s efforts to reduce suicide rates and provide life skills development among Alaska Native and other at-risk youth.
“Our funding focuses on suicide prevention, so with the younger kids, we start out by talking about bullying, since the risk of suicide is higher the more you’ve been bullied,” Alicia revealed.
Now over a year old, CITC’s Prevention and Youth Development program has grown significantly, providing cultural-based learning for partners including Highland Academy, Alaska Native Cultural Charter School, and the University of Alaska Anchorage. Since the program offers services for young people aged 10 – 24, it excels in meeting youth where they’re at by tailoring lessons for children and young adults at every age.
At NeighborWorks, while the youngest children work on listening skills and draw anti-bullying posters, Alicia and fellow Prevention Coordinator Crystalyn Lemieux lead the older kids through conversations about how to handle their own anger or cope with losing a loved one.
“A lot of suicide among teens happens because of breakups, so we talk about healthy relationships, and how to cope,” said Crystalyn. “We show them there’s support out there — not just from CITC, but from friends, family, Elders, and other mentors. The hope is that helping them recognize there’s help will decrease the risk of suicide.”
Thanks to CITC Recovery Services’ continuum of care, and to CITC’s partnerships with sister organizations, when Alicia or Crystalyn recognize that the youth with whom they work require additional services, they can get families the help they need.
“If we recognize that a kid is at-risk or needs more help, we can refer them to Southcentral Foundation,” Alicia described. “At CITC, we can offer them case management, or refer them elsewhere to make sure they get the service they need.”
In addition to working in local schools and with partners both in Anchorage and in the Mat-Su Valley, CITC Prevention and Youth Development also offers a Wellness Group for people aged 13 – 18 every Wednesday from 6 – 7 p.m. at the Nat’uh Service Center. For more information about additional services offered by Prevention and Youth Development, visit the program webpage, or call (907) 793-3237.