HASTINGS, Minn. — Mental health in children and students was the topic of discussion during this quarter's Helping Kids Succeed meeting put on by the United Way of Hastings. Those who attended were representing a wide range of education, non-profit, government, and faith organizations.

"We hired a consultant that was familiar with the community. When we worked with Kevin Fox from Fox Consulting he did a comprehensive analysis out in the community," said United Way of Hastings Executive Director Mari Mellick. "The feedback we continued to receive from individuals and businesses that he interviewed was .... where should United Way put its focus? We put it on youth, and we should put our resources towards youth and issues facing youth."

To coordinate an action plan to combat those issues, United Way turned to Communities in Schools of the Twin Cities. It provides full-time site coordinators that work with partner schools.

"Their job is to essentially surround students with communities of support," said Communities in Schools Executive Director Amanda Sappa. "Empowering them to participate in school and achieve in life. The reality facing a lot of our kids today is that when they go to school, there are so much other stuff going on in their lives that it is virtually impossible for them to focus on school."

She said one way her social workers could be effective in schools is by providing additional support services to students in counselors caseloads. Hastings Middle School counselor Charlie Black earlier in the meeting stated that he had over 400 kids in his docket.

"As Charlie mentioned, the guidance counselors in all of our schools are amazing, but they've got huge caseloads," Sappa said. "I think what we can do then is come in and take some of those kids who the counselors know could use some additional support services."

Mellick said she's excited for the partnership between Hastings Public Schools and Communities in Schools. The organization will be in the community more often now that a counselor will be posted at the high school.

"Amanda also has operations in place to really monitor the impact, which we don't have at United Way of Hastings," Mellick said. "So she'll be able to get us feedback quickly on the services being provided and if they're making a difference."

Another way United Way is looking to bring more awareness to mental health problems with kids is possibly holding a mental health summit. A small-group meeting on the topic was held last October with good conversations coming from it.

The problem with holding a mental health summit geared towards families and the kids themselves is getting them to attend in the first place.

"It's very hard to get the audience that we want to the table," Mellick said. "We know parents are super busy and until a crisis hits them, they're typically not going to spend that time."

Ideas for a summit include hosting breakout sessions sometime in May or September, with a keynote speaker attending or showing the documentary "Angst." However, nothing was set in stone during the meeting.

The next HKS community partners meeting will be April 14th. Any Hastings community member is welcome to attend.