Despite frigid temperatures, more than 300 residents from the Belton and Raymore-Peculiar schools districts came together Saturday to share ideas about building healthier lives and creating more possibilities for youth, families, and the wider communities.
“Good Neighbors, Strong Community” was a day-long conference at Raymore-Peculiar High School during which community members met with professionals from health and governmental organizations to learn and discuss how they could, individually and collectively, contribute to these mutual goals.
The event, hosted by the Ray-Pec and Belton school districts, hopes to become a yearly gathering. The inaugural Good Neighbors, Strong Community event was open to the public and a number of breakout sessions, covering a wide spectrum of topics — mental health, bullying, suicide prevention, healthy relationships, community safety, and increasing emotional intelligence among others.
“All of today’s topics are prevalent in our society and topics we wanted to begin conversations about,” said Al Voelker, Raymore-Peculiar School District assistant superintendent. “There’s a growing need to talk about these issues and how we can help as a community. We believe if you increase the knowledge base, people in this community are willing to help. The important thing is to get people together, share ideas, and build relationships.”
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The initial vision for the event belonged to Ray-Pec School Board President, Kim Bailey, who also led the planning committee.
“There are issues plaguing our youth,” said Bailey, who is also a registered family therapist. “People are expecting schools and school districts to fix these problems, but they are community issues. Schools are part of the solution, but they are not the total solution.”
Some of the current issues that concern Bailey most include extreme conflict in families and communities, as well as bullying in all forms.
“When parents argue and fight, children become hopeless,” Bailey said. “In communities, when people argue and fight the same thing happens, and not just to children, but to people of all ages. Fighting and disagreement surrounds us today.”
“It’s ok to disagree, but people need to learn to disagree well, otherwise it creates hopelessness. People need to learn to do relationships well. We’re not developing healthy relationship skills and we’re not prioritizing them.”
Bailey is also concerned about the loss of one-on-one relationships resulting from the prevalence of digital communication.
“People are not good at face-to-face relationships today,” she said. “However, we are biologically designed for these relationships. Digital devices don’t give us that face-to-face and it’s essential. We’re seeing ‘failure to thrive’ on a mass scale, because we don’t have that connection.”
Some of the professionals who addressed these crucial topics during Saturday’s breakout sessions included Dr. Shayla Sullivant, who spoke about suicide prevention; Dr. Gaylin Perry, who explained the importance of sleep; Cass County Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocate Crystal Beal on teen relationships; family service counselor Suzanne Taylor on addiction and the family; and CoxHealth Department of Public Safety Training Coordinator JJ Goulbourne on protecting children in the digital age.
The conference also included volunteer students from Ray-Pec and Belton.
“I hope today leads to kids behaving better and being nicer to each other,” said Ray-Pec student Jordan Jermain, 16.
His brother, Ashton, agreed.
“I wish people would come together and agree to be nicer and get along,” Ashton, 12, said
Royals General Manager, Dayton Moore, served as the keynote speaker and addressed the myriad social and mental health challenges individuals and communities face today.
“The world tells us to look after self and to take care of number one,” Moore said. “We’re told to put ourselves first, but that’s not how community works. The most important thing we need to do is put others first and create an environment where people can grow and learn from others.
“Embrace diversity — different economic situations, education levels, races, and backgrounds. Embrace new ideas and make sure everyone feels like they belong. To build long-term success, do everything for the greater good of others.”
Moore also echoed Bailey’s sentiments about the importance of face-to-face relationships.
“Anything that deals with emotion needs to be done face-to-face,” Moore said. “One-on-one communication is the only way to build relationships. Social media can put relationships on the line.”
Moore concluded that we need to “lead young people in right values with strong role models and mentors who live lives that provide examples for them,” he said. “Care more than anybody else on the planet through simple concern for others.”
During her opening remarks to kick off the event, Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who represents the fourth congressional district, shared a number of sobering statistics about the serious issues challenging our communities — highlighting the stark reality of teen suicide, opioid use, and teen sex trafficking.
“One in 15 teens will try to take their lives, and suicide is the third largest cause of death among teenagers in this country,” Hartzler, a former public school teacher, said. “I have a heart for teenagers. Teenagers have everything to live for. We need to show them that and help them achieve their potential. It’s time to draw a line in the sand against sex trafficking, suicide, and opioids. We need to let young people know they have hope and point them toward that hope.”
She hoped the conversations that started Saturday at Good Neighbors, Strong Community would provide momentum for positive changes in the heart of Cass County.
“This is an important day,” Hartzler said. “This is amazing and I’m excited about what this day represents. We’re going to see changes.”