Imagine the Possibilities

We live on a beautiful island, just a thirty-five minute ferry ride from Seattle. We have great schools, safe neighborhoods, convenient shopping and restaurants and we have one of the highest teen alcohol and drug problems in the state (according to the WA State Healthy Youth Survey). We weren’t terribly surprised. We were after all parents of teenagers. But what did surprise us was that no one was talking publicly about it. Not the schools, not the city and not the organizations who served families and teens. And then one of our daughter’s friends nearly died from alcohol poisoning. A few nights later 12 parents and 6 teens sat together in a council circle to try and make sense of this near tragedy. We learned three important facts about our community that night: 1. The teens felt there wasn’t anything else to do on ‘the rock’ but drink and do drugs; 2. There is no place to turn for parents in crisis and 3. The teens felt disconnected from the rest of their community.

Over the years well meaning individuals and agencies tried to address the issue of teenagers and substance abuse, but nothing significant changed. So, we asked ourselves “How can we do this differently to bring about sustained change at all levels of our community?” Thus was born Imagine Bainbridge modeled after the enormously successful Imagine Chicago ( Like Imagine Chicago we wanted to bring alive a new imagination for our community’s future that would build community, unleash energy and imagination and lead to a positive future in which everyone would be able to contribute their unique resourcefulness and creativity.

We knew we needed more information, like what was really happening on a typical Friday night, so for the next meeting we expanded our circle to include service providers, school counselors and teen leaders. At the conclusion of that meeting we formed several action committees that explored healthier options for teens, public school policies and ways to increase community connections.

For our third meeting we invited teens to tell the adults what it’s like to be a teenager in our community. Twenty teens ranging in age from 13 to 18 sat in an inner circle surrounded by 50 adults in the outer circle. Adults asked the teens questions and then listened intently as they responded. Their insights helped to further clarify our goals and take us one step closer to understanding the island’s culture from their perspective.

The results of the Healthy Youth Survey received a lot of publicity, most of it negative and mostly directed at the schools. The schools were just one component – in truth this was a community-wide problem. The school superintendent agreed and at the end of the school year he convened a meeting attended by school administrators, school board members, police, service providers and Imagine Bainbridge. His express purpose was to form a community coalition that would raise awareness about the high rate of alcohol and drug use and provide parents and teens with relevant information. In less than 5 months we became the Bainbridge Coalition for Youth and Parents and sponsored the first Just Know Forum attended by over 300 parents.

Initially, the Coalition participants included representatives of the local public school district, Imagine Bainbridge, and some other youth-focused organizations. Over time the number of community groups active in the Coalition has grown to more than 20 member organizations. The Coalition participants share a common desire to increase the connections between teens and adults as a way not only to reduce risky behavior, but also to foster relationships that nurture positive life experiences for all Bainbridge children.

For 3 ½ years we operated as an informal group under the fiscal arm of the school district. Last year we received our non-profit status which will enable us to fund raise and write grants to support our mission. Our experience over the last five years has clearly demonstrated that all it really takes to bring about change is a little bit of passion, a willingness to ask the difficult questions and the time to listen with your heart to what people have to say. Only then can we imagine the possibilities.

Name of School, Organization, or Location of Program/Event:
Bainbridge Island School District
Bainbridge Island, Washington 98110

Submitted by: , Parent Coach

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