Here is how Fall River Health Services is connecting with the community to address youth issues

HOT SPRINGS, S. D. – Alexander Nelson, the Fall River Health Services Communities That Care Coalition Coordinator, is working to bring together community resources from throughout South Dakota to provide aid to the state’s youths, specifically in Fall River County.

What is Communities that Care?

Communities that Care is a program originally developed at University of Washington to create community-specific solutions to problems affecting local youth. 

“It could be substance abuse, mental health, and just general prevention programs to get kids skills and get them connected to the community,” Nelson said. “It isn’t a direct service program, to the parents or the child. It’s a process to develop a data driven, accurate assessment of the community needs and then bring those solutions to the different providers that are connected to the program.”

Does the Communities that Care Program work?

In short: yes. Controlled studies analyzing the impact of the program have established significant impacts on future substance abuse, college graduation rates, and mental health disorders.

 From the perspective of the communities paying for the implementation of the program, it’s a cost-saver as well. The Center for Communities that Care boasts that for every dollar spent, $11.14 is returned in the form of lower criminal justice system, crime victim, and health care costs, and increased earnings and tax revenues.

How does the program work?

The program consists of 5 steps:

    1. Get Started: Establishing a coalition coordinator who shepherds the process from start to finish
    2. Get Organized: Bringing together members of the community into a coalition to carry out the program
    3. Develop a Community Profile: Surveying and analyzing the community to determine the state of the community
    4. Create a Community Action Plan: Creating a plan to address what is found in the Community Profile
    5. Implement and Evaluate: Following the Action Plan, and gathering data to make future Action Plans even more effective.

Now, Fall River County is moving into step two and Fall River Health Services is working to bring the community together.

As the coalition coordinator, Alex Nelson, is looking for community leaders to get involved. “I’ve reached out to the school districts, service providers here in the community, BMS, telework centers, the Fall River County State’s Attorney’s Office, law enforcement from the county sheriff’s department, and the mayor,” Nelson said. “Many hands make light work.”

Once organized, the coalition will begin working to analyze what problems affect the communities around them most strongly, and then create a plan to help resolve those problems.

“This plan could be something as simple as seeking extra funding for a program that’s already implemented. There’s a lot of stuff in the county that is going well. There are a lot of great programs,” Nelson said. “Or it could be bringing something entirely new in, and we won’t know that until we get our community profile completed.”

Once those are established, the program can begin implementing those programs, and evaluating how well they do.

When is the program finished?

“To be honest, the process technically is never completed,” Nelson said, but he hopes to have implemented some programs by the Summer of 2023, with them coming definitely by Fall 2023.

Nelson described the program as a cycle. Once the coalition’s plan is put in motion, they can gather data on how well it works, and then use that information to develop another, even more effective plan.

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How does this connect to youth suicide?

The program looks to reduce risk factors that may be impacting community youth, like community drug use or family conflict, as well as protective factors, like strong morals and social protections.
Some of these are the very same factors that impact the risk of someone committing suicide.

“If you have a strong connection to your family, if there’s a lot of community support, and if you have easy access to health care, it can actually decrease that risk,” Nelson said. 

However, in the case of immediate mental health problems, Nelson recommends connecting with a local healthcare provider, like Fall River Health Services, that offers psychiatric care and counseling. 


What’s the best way for someone to get involved?

For anyone interested in joining or assisting the coalition, you can contact Alexander Nelson at, or call Fall River Health Services at (605) 745-8910, extension 2160.

“If you can show up to a meeting maybe once a month and then put an hour’s worth of work in between then and the next meetings, that’s more than enough.”

For more information on Fall River Health Services, visit their website at


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