There’s nothing like a year of unsettling “what-ifs” to wreak havoc like the pandemic did in 2020.

Sadly, though, the effects continue to be carried forward. And there’s no expectation about when the physical, mental, and emotional issues may come to an end – or if they ever will.

So, it has become more important than ever to manage a healthy lifestyle, especially for the youngest of generations plagued with stress from last year’s struggles. The World Health Organization has stated that depression has become the fourth-leading cause of illness and disability among children aged 15 to 19. Anxiety is in the top 10 mental health issues for those 10 to 19, with suicide as the fourth-leading cause of death in 15- to 19-year-olds.

And those struggles trigger a need in many younger generations to assume risk-taking behaviors, such as consuming alcohol or using tobacco and cannabis, WHO stated.

Once adolescents make those bad decisions, it’s often difficult for some to break free. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of high-school students have reported using illicit or injection drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or ecstasy. Likewise, 14 percent of students have said they misuse opioids, which is directly linked to sexual-risk behaviors.

But over the years, many groups have found a way to combat these concerns: healthy habits, like proper nutrition, exercise, and support.

That’s why the Cass County Family Y has partnered for the first time with the Cass County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition for the annual Healthy Kids Day event. Open to children of all ages, the free event will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 14, at Muehlhausen (Tower) Park, 800 20th St.

Generally held right after school ends for the summer, Brandy Kizer of the CCFY said that the groups opted to hold it before the start of the 2021-2022 school year as a way to remind children that healthy living will positively impact studies, decisions, and goals.

The event is geared toward kids of all ages, from toddlers to high-schoolers, Kizer said, adding that the choice to hold it at the park was to provide more distancing between participants. Usually, the event draws between 150 and 200 children.

That’s an audience Nikki Malott, of the Youth Services Alliance and Drug-Free Communities project and Local Coordinating Council coordinator, appreciates.

“Part of our DFC funding can be used for youth events, and we felt this was a perfect fit,” said Malott. “Instead of coming up with an additional event, we could just collaborate and work together to make this (one) even bigger. It is really an event that promotes kids staying healthy – physically and mentally – whether that be from eating healthy, exercising, or avoiding certain negative substances that youth may come in contact with. The event has always promoted staying healthy, and this was a perfect fit for what our coalition strives to promote.”

With the larger setting, Kizer said families will have access to more take-home information about ways to maintain healthy lifestyles.

Different resources will be available so that families may be connected to those who may offer support, said Malott, explaining that some of her organization’s data has shown that “living a healthy life definitely has a direct correlation with avoiding substances.”

“For one to live healthy, (he or she) must take care of body and mind,” said Malott. “Abusing substances does the direct opposite of that. Especially in our youth, using these substances has shown to be detrimental. There is scientific evidence that shows a person’s mind is not fully developed until they are 25, and by abusing these substances, their brains are negatively affected. It could have a lasting impact on their entire lives. This means not only physical problems, but mental and emotional ones as well.”

So between the splash pad fun and the educational information, Kizer said the day will be jam-packed with ways to promote mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Along with the splash pad, kids will be able to enjoy a bounce house, face-painting, music, food, games, crafts, and giveaways.

“It’s a reminder that there are games one can play that do not require a screen,” said Kizer.

Malott agreed, saying that Healthy Kids Day proves that a community can work together for the betterment of everyone. “Promoting staying active and eating healthy goes hand-in-hand with having an overall positive body and mind,” she said. “Youth who are engaged and have goals will not want to jeopardize those goals by using substances.”

“The purpose of DFC … is to really build a community coalition. It takes everyone involved to make this successful,” she said. “Events, like this one, are really fun, and we enjoy working with others in the community to make them a success. We all must work together to help our youth grow and develop into productive, successful adults.”

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