Sound Off: A community center would foster sense of belonging

The Washington State Department of Health releases a biannual report called the Healthy Youth Survey. Data from this shows that the youth in Oak Harbor report mental health issues in rates exceeding state averages. The data shows that 72% of our high-school students report feeling nervous, anxious or on edge. It also shows that over 40% self-report as having feelings of depression.

It begs the question of why the topic of mental health is not more consistently brought to the forefront of local, or even national political conversations. One of the principal reasons I have entered civic leadership is my desire to represent the people of Oak Harbor. My goal is to fill voids from prior leaders and create open communication with politicians and the citizenry.

I consistently meet with constituents to discuss their views on what has been successful and what isn’t working within our community. These efforts help me bring efficacy towards action in our local government conversations. The topic of mental health and its depth and impact on our community comes up with shocking frequency. Many of our citizens believe there to be a direct correlation between the lack of sense of belonging and mental health decline. This is often attributed to the lack of activities causing increasing depression in both our youth and adults alike.

This reoccurring sentiment has got me thinking about tangible ways to both address the all-too-often forgotten conversation of mental health and create access to spaces for these conversations to be had within our community. Establishing a place that creates a strong sense of belonging in one’s environment is invaluable. I believe such a place would be founded in the creation of a Community Arts and Recreation Center. The Center would provide much desired local activities for our youth and adults, all while providing the opportunity for those interested in cultural, social, creative, and athletic engagement.

Many may ask how feasible this idea is and if we have the capability of creating such a vision so close to home. Because of my current position on the council, I have entertained audiences with our elected officials about this idea, and my plan to continue discussing this concept until we are able to move forward with the Center. Through partnerships within government, civic organizations, and grant funding opportunities, this is achievable, and we will be successful.

One of my main tenets of increased livability for our city demands taking care of the mental health of those around us. We should be providing access to resources and creating opportunities for engagement and a sense of belonging. I am excited about the planning of our Community Arts and Recreation Center, but I am even more enthusiastic about the rewards of what this project entails for our community.

Intentional economic development requires forethought and vision. Establishing this Center will create jobs and other financial opportunities all while being a catalyst for good! I encourage every single one of you to continue reaching out to me. Please continue to share your ideas of how we can make our community stronger and safer. Rest assured that I hear you and I will continue to advocate on your behalf until our entire community is heard.

Shane Hoffmire is a member of the Oak Harbor City Council and a candidate for mayor.