The year is almost 2020. Kids today are growing up faster than ever before. Exposed to the Internet at an early age; navigating the reality and dangers of social media; tempted by vaping and other addictive behaviors; and unable to escape the stark reality of mass shootings—it’s no wonder parents often feel ill-equipped to parent in today’s world.
Thankfully, determined community members in Barrington are taking action to provide children and parents with the resources they need to survive—and thrive—in our complex, ever-changing society. BStrong Together is a community coalition that provides programs and resources to support students, parents, and others in raising resilient, responsible, and self-sufficient youth.
“BStrong Together was formed when school board and members of the community came together and realized we needed to rethink the way we were addressing the needs of our youth and their parents as they go about raising their kids,” says Melissa Buckley, founding board president of BStrong and recent recipient of the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding Women Leaders Community Impact Award. “The result was the formation of BStrong Together in 2017.”
BStrong Together was born out of three important Barrington-area organizations—Barrington LEADS, HERE in Barrington, and LINK Barrington—to leverage their combined efforts, energy, resources, and talent in a more holistic approach to children’s health and well-being. The goal was to create a coalition of community groups, educational entities, health care organizations, and community members that work together to coordinate, communicate, and plan programs and services throughout the Barrington community with the mission of enhancing the health and well-being of our children and youth in mind, body, and spirit.
“We feel this holistic approach is the best way to look out for our kids’ health and wellness. You can’t look at these issues in isolation,” says Barrington resident and BStrong Executive Director Kyle Kick and parent of two. “We pushed down our focus to look at the full continuum of a child’s life where prevention efforts start from the very beginning. To accomplish this, we bring together people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and challenges to have conversations and opportunities to learn in order to build a community of support around our kids and each other.”
To accomplish its goals, BStrong Together plans speaker events, hosts Conversation Circles and parent coffees, sends out Time2Talk direct mail postcards, and hosts a robust website with resources for parents, youth, and community members.
Much of BStrong Together’s programming and initiatives are aimed at getting the important conversations going—between parents and professionals; between parents and their children; among any community members who interact with youth regularly.
The Conversation Circles are one cornerstone of this concept. Facilitated by mental health professionals, these circles are held monthly throughout the school year at the elementary, middle, and high school levels—with preschool being added this year.
“BStrong wants to help build coping skills when children are young so when they run into challenges, they will have the skills to make healthy decisions and choices,” says Kick. “Kids need to learn that life is a long journey and that they will make mistakes. They need to know who they can lean on when they need support.”
“As your kids go through stages, you recognize you many need support,” says Cheryl Barcal, Vice President on BStrong’s board of directors, co-chair on the programming committee, and mother of two children currently attending BHS. “I feel like I am reaching out to others through my work with BStrong, and that we all have a shared responsibility.”
Prior to joining the board this July, Barcal attended the monthly Conversation Circles as a parent, and says that when people show up and are willing to be honest and vulnerable, everyone walks away with something.
“We are asking for a pretty significant shift in the way people think. It requires vulnerability,” adds Kick. “Parenting is really hard and it just keeps getting harder. I feel passionately about the fact that people often feel that the struggles they are going through with their families are just theirs, but we know they are not alone. We want people to feel it’s OK to talk about it with others.”
In addition to the Conversation Circles and parent coffees, BStrong offers a robust variety of programs and resources.
The Time2Talk postcards encourage parents and children to touch on difficult topics often: “It’s not one, 60-minute conversation. It’s 60, one-minute conversations that make a difference.” Postcards address areas such as underage drinking, vaping, healthy relationships, stress, and mental health.
BStrong regularly brings in recognized speakers, such as partnering with Humanity Rising for the recent “Stand Up for a Kinder Community” event that featured Stand for the Silent co-founder Kirk Smalley, who lost his son to suicide as a result of bullying. BStrong also recently launched a series of Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) trainings to prepare more community members to assist in suicide prevention.
The list goes on. BStrong is continually adding and adjusting the organization’s programming as it learns and responds to community input and needs.
“I think we need more adults who know what to do next when a child is struggling,” sums Kick. “More people who know how to grab the lifeline when our kids need it.”
To find out about upcoming events and all of the resources that BStrong Together has to offer, visit bstrongtogether.org and sign up for the mailing list.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
BStrong Together’s community supporters are testament to the organization’s important mission and work:
Barrington 220 School District
Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital
Kelleher & Buckley, LLC
Barrington Bank & Trust
Barrington Area Community Foundation – Conversation Circles
Barrington Area United Way – Time-2-Talk media campaign
Barrington 220 Educational Foundation – In partnership with BHS, sent 12 BHS Broncos Committed seniors to the Human Performance Project Illinois Leadership Conference
Barrington Junior Women’s Club – Barrington Committed Tag Program that supports BHS Broncos Committed mentors who visit all Barrington area 5th grade classrooms to teach about the importance of making good choices
Barrington Noon Rotary Club – Awarded a grant to support technology to further BStrong Together’s programming impact in the community
Barrington Children’s Charity – Support of BStrong Together’s BC Bash