Crow Wing County officials are taking a new tact in dealing with issues such as suicide, juvenile offenses and dropout rates by partnering with Bridges of Hope for a "self-healing community."

The idea is to "engage the public, inspire innovation, support peer helping and ease the daily stress burden of parents to promote change so that together communities can better protect and nurture the next generation."

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"We actually were the instigators of this whole idea," Community Services Director Kara Terry said of the early stages of the collaboration-a first for the Brainerd lakes area community.

The self-healing community model aims to build a community capacity to improve outcomes for health and social issues by reducing and preventing adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"We would often as a county come in and say, 'How do we fix this for you?'" Terry said. "But how do we flip that on its head and say, 'What is it about you, about this neighborhood ... that we can help support to reduce cases of child protection or chemical dependency issues or whatever?'"

By promoting community and culture change, self-healing communities can help make dramatic reductions in youth and family problems and "develop strong networks that promote greater collaboration across the community," according to Terry.

"We had mapped out our child protection calls throughout the county and identified a few different, what we call 'hot spots,' within the county in which the majority of our child protection cases came from. One of those areas was northeast Brainerd, another was Crosby," Terry said.

"We were looking at this data or the information, and we were trying to figure out how could we do things differently because what we've been doing has led us to the point where there are these hot spot neighborhoods."

The initiative will lead to more who are able to work in the community, which will benefit local businesses facing a worker shortage, while more stable families will also lead to a decrease in adverse childhood experiences, according to self-healing community model proponents.

"When you are working on a really macro level, real change takes time," said Kassie Heisserer, Bridges of Hope executive director. "Our primary focus is to connect people to resources, so this project fits well within our mission."

The nonprofit hopes to raise $100,000 to fund the first year of the five-year project-primarily the cost it will take to employ a person to work on the project in the summer or early fall.

"Really what that project coordinator is going to do is help facilitate conversations and ideas within the community itself, and it is those folks, those individuals, who are the ones coming up with their solutions, and we're just helping connect the dots for them," Heisserer said.

Terry, Community Services Business Manager Rachel Grimes and Division Manager Kara Griffin met Monday, June 11, to schedule a meeting with Bridges of Hope to develop a work plan.

The vision of the Brainerd-based Bridges of Hope includes "partnerships within the broader community to help strengthen, stabilize and support families in the lakes area, sending a message of hope and empowering families to thrive."

"Child protection-while they do wonderful work-isn't always the most accepted by people, just because of the work that they do, and so we looked for a nonprofit that we could partner with in the community to actually do this good work," Terry said of Bridges of Hope.

Crow Wing Energized conducted a recent survey that showed two-thirds of respondents are overweight or obese, and 25 to 40 percent have high blood pressure and cholesterol, mental health conditions and arthritis, which the county and Bridges of Hope may tackle in the project.

"We're still finalizing kind of what we think our goals are going to be ... but we've seen that in Washington state, they saw a decrease in juvenile arrests for violent crime, high school dropout rates were lower ... so we're hoping to replicate a lot of those results," Heisserer said.

Organizers of the self-healing communities models anticipate the implementation of the model will take 24 to 36 months with observable outcomes in three to five years.

"Self-healing communities will benefit community partners. The educational system will likely benefit from better attendance and increased graduation rates. Law enforcement, the courts and the jail will benefit from decreased crime both in juvenile and adult populations," Terry said.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Washington communities that used the model for eight years or greater reduced the rates of child abuse and neglect, family and youth violence, youth substance abuse, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy and youth suicide.

"Community providers will benefit from a deeper connection to the community and increased awareness of the services that are available to help individuals who are in need of support," Terry said.