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'Building Bridges' Conference Highlights Importance of Collaboration and Community to Youth

Published: 10/28/2022

Poughkeepsie, NY…  Over 150 school administrators, guidance counselors, case managers, and social workers, as well as several partner agencies gathered virtually last week at the 14th annual “Building Bridges” conference sharing information, collaborating on initiatives, and solving problems to enhance relationships between schools and the community and provide positive outcomes for youth and their families.

The theme of this year’s day-long virtual event, co-hosted by the Department of Behavioral & Community Health (DBCH) and Astor Services for Children & Families, was “Navigating Together,” with sessions designed to highlight the importance of creating a collaborative network of support for students, families, schools, and providers. The event also featured breakout sessions with local experts on various topics, networking, and sharing ideas as well as having attendees’ questions answered and sharing feedback.

The conference provided attendees with community resources for dealing with trauma, reducing risk, and intervention and diversion services for youth. Keynote speaker Nancy S. Scherlong, LCSW, PTR, CJT, CM, a licensed clinical social worker and registered poetry and journal therapist, led participants in an interactive discussion about the significance of words and awareness when helping those dealing with trauma to create and sustain the individual’s narrative to help them grow beyond their experiences, re-story fixed ideas and restore compassion and optimism.

County Executive Marc Molinaro said, “Our children spend a significant amount of time in school, not just learning, but building relationships and growing the skills necessary for their success in the future. By equipping teachers, counselors and administrators with the knowledge and resources to best respond to the signs of trouble is vital to ensuring our children have the support they need to thrive and overcome obstacles to their success. We are grateful to the experts, community members, and school personnel who attended this year’s ‘Building Bridges’ conference and to Astor Services for their continued support and commitment to the mental wellbeing of the youth of Dutchess County.”

This year’s event also highlighted local parents and students who have benefited from mental health resources within their schools and community sharing their stories as well as breakout sessions on topics such as current trends of drug use among young people and the cycle of addiction, the importance of nutrition and exercise in maintaining positive mental and overall health, and how to best communicate about difficult topics.

DBCH Clinical Director of Coordinated Services, Christopher St. Germain, PhD, discussed the County’s trauma-informed organizational care initiative, discussing the needs, experiences and challenges many LGBTQIA+ youth face. This was the second part of this highly requested session, which was introduced last year. The session gave participants an opportunity to explore strategies to make their approaches and environments more inclusive and supportive for members of this community.

Dr. St. Germain said of his experience as both a presenter and attendee at this year’s event, “When people work together, a better understanding of various systems can be achieved, and different perspectives contribute to a more robust positive outcome. This conference provided an important avenue for us to build effective collaboration and communication between providers, schools, and our community. We learned about gaps in the system that we may be able to address, while also offering tools to help address them. It's inspiring to see so many people, with so many different backgrounds and perspectives, working together.”

The “Building Bridges” conference is an annual event. To learn more about the annual event, or the resources discussed, contact Himali Pandya, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives with Astor Services, at or call 845-905-2024.