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Taking the Long View To Make Our Communities Better

Tri-County Mental Health Services CEO Tom Petrizzo recently presented the employee of the quarter award to Kara White. White’s efforts with the Northland and Richmond Coalitions, combating substance abuse and fighting for healthy communities has reached nearly every community in the Northland.

Like most of us, Kara White thinks in terms of hours, days and weeks. But as a community prevention specialist with Tri-County Mental Health Services, she also thinks in terms of years, even decades.

The reason is also part of her work: that’s how long it usually takes to make big changes that stick. “Cultural shifts take years,” White explained. “That’s why so much of what we do in this job is not instantly gratifying. You see progress, but long-term success can take years.”

Cultural shifts include the almost 180-degree change on tobacco and smoking. Once “recommended by doctors” and allowed in virtually every office and home, smoking today is largely relegated to small areas. A similar shift with substance abuse, under-age alcohol use and other unhealthy and preventable habits will also take time—perhaps generations. Fortunately, White has some short-term goals that are rewarding, too.

“Working with amazing volunteers, seeing their passion and watching them take ownership of different strategies is the greatest reward,” she said, noting that her main responsibilities are the Northland Coalition and Ray County Coalition along with related student groups. “Working with driven, community-minded people who want to make a difference in the lives of youth, that’s so satisfying.”

White’s passion for the work is evident. Recently named Employee of the Quarter at Tri-County, she is a constant presence at coalition meetings and other events throughout the Northland. Behind the scenes, there’s also an immense amount of paperwork for grants, struggles to prevent advocacy efforts from being delayed or even blocked, and watching the continued, negative effects of substance use on individuals and families. “But it’s also easy to see small changes and ‘wins’ that keep momentum alive when there are groups of passionate people behind this work,” she said.

White joined Tri-County in 2012 after earning a degree in sociology from Northwest Missouri State University and working at several posts, including with the YMCA and as a substitute teacher. She fell in love with Tri-County’s prevention team during her first job interview.

“I have a younger sister who at the time was a freshman in high school,” she recalled. “I knew this type of work connected me to a bigger purpose, one that would hopefully impact the world my sister would grow up in.”

She has a more recent personal stake in youth wellness as well. She and her husband, who live in Kansas City, North, are expecting their first child. But even without that motivation, Northland prevention efforts and the people involved are never far from her mind.

“One of my absolute favorite parts of this job is helping Northland Coalition members host the Northland Prevention Conference every year,” she said. “This is an opportunity to bring 200-plus community members together to learn more about prevention, gather resources and skills they can take back to their ‘worlds’ and do their part.  It’s the best!”

Content courtesy Dale Garrison of DGInform.com.

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