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Duncan Librarian Ashlee Germaine hopes to grow the mental health program she's been offering at the library since the spring.

After taking the summer months off, the Duncan Public Library is once again offering kids a place to gather to discuss mental health issues and ways to address them healthily.

September is Suicide Awareness Month and Library Director Ashlee Germaine said the meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 will feature TED talks on the subject.

Last March, Germaine began inviting kids to the library to talk about mental health issues after receiving a $3,000 grant from the American Library Association as part of the Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries program.

As part of the grant, Germaine took an online course in how to lead the conversations and began increasing the library’s collection of books on the topic. Each meeting start offs with a movie or a book that delves into mental health.

The kids’ meeting had been averaging eight to 10 participants prior to the break and five adults attended their first meeting in July, Germaine said.

Grief, sadness and depression are topics well known to Duncan kids. Many of them knew Kwentin Jernigan, who took his life in March 2020 at the age of 12. They also knew Emmett Darnell, another Wildkat who lost his life in a vehicle accident along with two other teenagers in February 2020.

In fact, Duncan Junior High held a memorial walk to honor both boys in May and the $400 that was raised was donated to the library, with a portion of the funds dedicated to the mental health program, Germaine said.

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Germaine said she is trying hard to develop a rapport with the kids and she’s determined “to create a safe space, if not with me, with each other.”

Part of building those relationships means incorporating crafts into her program. Sometimes it’s just easier to talk if your hands are busy painting rocks or doing something else crafty, she said.

Even when the grant money runs out, Germaine said she hopes to keep the meetings going.

There simply isn’t much available in the area for people struggling with mental health issues, she said.

According to the grant application Germaine submitted, the most recent data available shows the per capita income in the Town of Duncan is $19,795 and while Greenlee County’s poverty rate is 10.5%, Duncan’s is 26.5%.

The application also pointed out Duncan is served by one clinic that’s only open Mondays through Thursdays and where mental health services are often conducted by telemedicine and must be scheduled in advance.

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