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Evergreen House 'prevention strategies' conference continues today

The 2010 Evergreen House Annual Conference was held at First Lutheran Church Thursday with more than 200 professional educators learning about various prevention strategies to help grow healthy kids and families. Gary Russell held an afternoon session on Marijuana Abuse and Adolescents in an afternoon session. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Doing his best to impersonate the "loveable furry old Grover" from Sesame Street, Kevin Cease amused youth-work professionals as he read from a children's book in his opening talk, highlighting the importance of overcoming fears.

The fifth annual Evergreen House two-day conference started Thursday and continues from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. today at First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. This year's conference highlights prevention strategies to help kids and families stay healthy.

Cease, a third-generation funeral director with the Cease Family Funeral Homes in Bemidji, was the opening keynote speaker.

"Fear drives bad behavior," Cease said during his opening presentation to conference attendees. "When you understand what your fear is, it has no control over you anymore."

His talk, titled "Laugh Out Loud," had conference participants in childlike play, clapping their hands, stretching and exercising, as they practiced 15 types of laughter through what he called "laughter yoga."

"You can change somebody's life just by smiling," Cease said. "You can make a positive different just by doing one thing."

The Evergreen House, a private, nonprofit service provider, helps youth successfully transition to adulthood and provides resources and support to parents and caregivers. It provides a youth shelter, recovery house and community services site for the Greater Bemidji Area.

Conference seminars hit on topics such as prenatal alcohol-exposed adolescents, helping American Indian students succeed, co-parenting relationships, marijuana abuse in adolescents and suicide prevention, among many others.

Bemidji State University's social work program co-sponsored the two-day conference.

Gary Russell, Evergreen Shelter's program director, spoke on marijuana abuse and adolescents. Russell, who has worked with at-risk children for 24 years, showed attendees the different types of drug paraphernalia, specifically everyday household items that could be used by adolescents for substance abuse.

Displaying a series of compelling photographs, Russell uncovered several little known truths about marijuana abuse, toxic solvent abuse, gang identification and intervention and suicide prevention.

Rebecca Schueller, executive director of the Evergreen House, said this year's theme was all about prevention training."Prevention programs are often the first to lose funding when federal, state and local money is tight," Schueller said. "It's very important to put focus on prevention."

According to Schueller, parents are often not exposed to the same culture as their children. This is why the conference can be very helpful not only for youth work professionals, but also for parents.

"It connects parents with information pertinent to their kids," she said.

Schueller said she hopes professionals will take home hope and inspiration from the conference.

"In today's tough economic climate, many of these professionals are already over-worked," Schueller said. "Hopefully they'll go home refreshed and rejuvenated and have added some new tools to their work."