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Community Conversation: Resiliency in our students (11/6/18)

By Community Relations Intern Clara Hall (class of 2020)Two individuals talking at a table at the Community Conversation.

On Oct. 24, the North Thurston Public Schools Board of Directors held their 2nd Community Conversation with a focus on emotional and mental health services and needs in our community.

“Community engagement is one of the major principles by which our board operates,” said School Board President, Graeme Sackrison. “[We try] to stay in touch and listen to what people have to say so that we can make good decisions.”

The event was an opportunity to hear from local professionals as well as allow members of the community to share thoughts or concerns with the board. It was a “collaborative effort,” according to Sackrison, to discuss “responsible, resilient, and empowered learners” which is one of the district’s strategic plan goals.    

Mel Hartley, an NPTS parent and School Board Director, facilitated the evening’s panel.  “Mental health care services are sometimes hard to find...that's part of the reason we brought the folks to you tonight; to be able to tell you about all the great services that are in the community,” said Hartley.

Amber Huffstickler attended the Community Conversation and enjoyed connecting with other community members discuss the issues around mental health, but she wants to do more. “What can I do as a childless, unmarried working person do to help support mental health in our community?” Suggestions from the panel included being an adult mentor or peer counselor.

The panel at the table in the front. Carletta Garraway, whose children attended NTPS schools, was pleased with the panel and how far the district has come in the area of mental health. “I have a daughter who suffers from mental health issues,” said Garraway. “The district has gained a better understanding of depression and it’s good to see resources developing around adolescent mental health!” Her hope is that the conversations can transform into action. “We need to keep reaching out and providing resources to other parents.”  

The evening’s panel members included:

Shelly Willis who is the Executive Director of Family Education and Support Services (FESS.) Willis has over 25 years of experience working directly with children and families as an educator, advocate, and advisor. Currently FESS serves over 7,000 individuals annually with a mission to ensure the healthy development of children through the provision of evidence based family strengthening services

Eliza Smith, Supervisor of Crisis Services at St. Peter Hospital. Smith has worked extensively in the are of mental health and social services both within the district and abroad. She has assisted in providing services to 7,000 individuals last year.

Gilberto Maldonado, Program Manager at Sea Mar Behavioral Health. Maldonado began his career at Sea Mar in December 2015. He his a veteran of the Armed Forces with more than 20 years of active federal service and is now an advocate for veterans and their families along with all underserved populations in the community.

Alicia Ferris, Chief Clinical Officer of Community Youth Services (CYS). Ferris assists in leading CYS, a non-profit based in Olympia, Washington  that specializes in serving adolescents and young adults through a broad and integrated continuum of care.

Jessica Shook, Clinical Manager at Olympic Health and Recovery Services (OHRS). Shook is a licensed Mental Health Counselor and Designated Crisis Responder who is currently working as Clinical Manager for Olympic Health and Recovery Services, a behavioral health agency that provides involuntary treatment assessment for seven local counties including Thurston and Mason.

Leslie Van Leishout, Director of Student Support for North Thurston Public Schools. Leishout has worked for over 30 years in all levels from preschool to higher education. She oversees mental health, counseling and health services for all students in North Thurston Public Schools. Leishout relishes advocacy for the marginalized and disenfranchised child.


Here is a list of local resources referred to by the panel during the evening. You can also watch presentations and discussions on our YouTube channel at

System Of Care Partnership of Mason and Thurston Counties)


Video of the full Community Conversation