County recognizes public health advocates

Public health recognition awards were presented by the Anoka County Board April 24 to two individuals and one organization.

Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah (right) and Laurel Hoff (left), county director of community health and environmental services, congratulate Don Raleigh, a junior at Centennial High School, on his Anoka County Public Health Award for his domestic and dating violence prevention efforts through education, awareness and collaboration in both the school and community.

Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah (right) and Laurel Hoff (left), county director of community health and environmental services, congratulate Don Raleigh, a junior at Centennial High School, on his Anoka County Public Health Award for his domestic and dating violence prevention efforts through education, awareness and collaboration in both the school and community.

The awards, established by the county board in 2006, “honor those who dedicate their time, energy and talent to improve public health in Anoka County,” according to Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, county board chairperson.

There were two award categories – youth focused, individual or group and adult, individual or group.

Don Raleigh, a junior at Centennial High School, won the youth award for his violence prevention work through education, awareness and collaboration in the school and community.

There were two winners in the adult category.

Dr. John Hennen, a counselor at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, for his work on violence prevention at the college, earned the individual award.

The group category adult award went to the Columbia Heights Police Department for its contribution to anti-bullying activities through its open gym cops and kids initiative.

“They have shown leadership and dedication to successfully create solutions to public health problems,” said County Commissioner Dan Erhart.

“They have given of themselves to make the county stronger.”

According to Laurel Hoff, county director of community health and environmental services, the public health awards are given in recognition of April being Public Health Month in the country.

“They have helped to improve lives and the smallest change can make a big difference,” Hoff said.

“Anoka County has joined the movement to improve health and these winners have gone above and beyond to make a difference in the county.”

According to Sivarajah, Raleigh has raised awareness of the impact of domestic violence in the past three years and created an environment in both the community and school for dealing with dating violence.

He has collaborated with both Alexandra House, the shelter for battered women and their children in the county, and city of Circle Pines to launch a Project Purple project with the goal of ending domestic and dating violence, Sivarajah said.

The Project Purple event, which took place in October 2011, included many activities and Raleigh also recruited more than 100 peer leaders at the high school to be part of a day of training on the dating violence issue.

Indeed, Raleigh’s project came to the attention of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, which has donated money to his efforts, she said.

“I am so grateful for his work and so proud to have him part of the Anoka County community,” Sivarajah said.

Erhart introduced the public health award for Hennen.

According to Erhart, Hennen became an advocate on the sexual violence issue at Anoka-Ramsey after attending a Coaching Boys into Men event in 2009 and is also involved county as a member of the Sexual Assault Action Team of the Violence Free Anoka County program.

When he put on a workshop at the college on the role of men in preventing sexual violence, more than 200 people took part, Erhart said.

Hennen has also created the Green Dot initiative at the college, a prevention program focused on empowering bystanders to become active members in reducing power-based personal violence where they live, work and attend school.

This includes partner violence, sexual assault, stalking or other uses of force, threat, intimidation or harassment of an individual, according to the Anoka-Ramsey website.

“John has worked tirelessly on the program which is structured to reduce violence,” Erhart said.

According to Hennen, his fellow counselors and others at Anoka-Ramsey as well as community partners are deserving of recognition, so is Donna McDonald, the county’s violence prevention coordinator.

County Commissioner Jim Kordiak, who introduced the Columbia Heights Police Department award, said the open gym cops and kids program in collaboration with the Columbia Heights School District has been critical to preventing long-term violence and reducing juvenile crime.

The cops and kids anti-bullying mentoring program at Highland Elementary School, Columbia Heights, started with eight kids and three police officers to provide positive support and role models, according to Kordiak.

It has grown to 293 kids participating with 16 members of the police department, Kordiak said.

And the police department has expanded the program to include Valley View Elementary School this school year, he said.

The weekly open gym, which began in 2008 for members of the police department to interact with youth on a weekly basis with activities such as basketball, soccer, board games and homework assistance, has involved more than 3,000 youth over that time, Kordiak said.

According to Columbia Heights Police Chief Scott Nadeau, the programs have been a success because of the collaboration of the schools and the police officers involved.

“District 13 is a really great collaborative partner,” Nadeau said.

There has been a 50 percent reduction in juvenile arrests since 2008, he said.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com


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