In 2012, students in the Battle Ground School District in Battle Ground, Washington, awoke to the news that one of their classmates had passed away after taking her own life. The student – an eighth grader at one of the middle schools in the district – was the seventh student from Battle Ground to die by suicide during 2011 and 2012.
The string of suicides was described as a “contagion” by Lisa Walters, who served as mayor from 2012 to 2013. Permeated by a “fear of the next one coming,” residents of Battle Ground were left reeling after each one – especially Curtis Miller.
Miller had moved to Battle Ground several years prior, feeling that God had called him and his family there after much prayer and reflection. He volunteered and was appointed to the Planning Commission for the City, and was later approached by Walters for help in coming up with a solution to combat the rising number of teen suicides. He began reaching out to local pastors and leaders, organizing meetings in which they could discuss the issue and how best to move forward.
“Suicide is a symptom of two larger problems kids are facing: they are isolated and they don’t believe they have value,” Miller said. “We wanted to address the underlying cause. Suicide was the urgent issue that initially drew us together, but our focus has become much larger and more long-term.”
It was out of these meetings that the Battle Ground Mentoring Collaborative was born. Following the Collective Impact Model, the Collaborative encompasses multiple sectors – community, education, business, government, art, and health – all tied together by a shared burden for mentoring the younger generation and bringing about systemic change. Based in part on the ACE study (Adverse Childhood Experience study, which links childhood trauma to long-term health and social consequences), the Collaborative is focused on offsetting the effects of childhood trauma through healthy, cross-generational mentoring relationships.
The Collaborative is not meant to be a new program, but rather, a synthesis of existing programs and organizations dedicated to similar ends. Through working together, the goal is to increase exponentially their overall effectiveness. One of the main partnering entities is the Battle Ground School District, where 13,000 students attend school each year.
“The school district is the largest organization that serves children,” Miller said. “Nearly every kid is affected by it. Their partnership with the Collaborative gives us an understanding of what the needs are.”
Partnering with the school district also provides access to opportunities for people who are involved with any of the Collaborative sectors, but who are not already actively involved with mentoring. “We’ve heard it said that 20% of people do 80% of the work. We’re telling the other 80% of people that we need them,” Miller said.
Ultimately, Miller believes the health of the community, especially of students, is a priority for his work in Battle Ground. “Until 13,000 students know they are valuable and have relationships with people outside of the ones they tweet with, we’re not done,” Miller said.
Learn more about the Battle Ground Mentor Collaborative.