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United Way Announces 2018 Campaign Initiative

“I don’t care about school. Who cares if I don’t turn in homework, it’s not like it’s going to matter in the future anyways. Waking up on time is just too hard, I’m too tired to concentrate because I’m up half the night taking care of my baby brother. I don’t have the energy to study and I can’t focus in class.” states Tiffany.  A student, like Tiffany, might be labeled as lazy or not living up to their potential. Or, in reality, it could be that they are struggling with depression. Maybe they are dealing with a difficult home life and don’t have someone to confide in.

Mental health care has long-faced a stigma that made talking about needs or services difficult. Lately though, mental health has become a much talked about topic.   Nearly half of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses are estimated to start by age 14.  Here in South Dakota, 9% adolescents ages 12-17 had a major depressive episode in the year prior to them being surveyed. But, more than half of them never received treatment. While we are becoming more aware of the data, there is still work to be done.

Part of breaking down the stigma around mental health is educating others and creating awareness. That is why Sioux Empire United Way is inviting the community to our Campaign Kickoff, on September 12, which will feature information around United Way’s new PATH initiative. PATH, Providing Access to Healing, provides professional counseling services directly to students in their schools.


Sioux Empire United Way started looking at mental health needs in 2014. Researching solutions, United Way found a model program within our United Way network that would work within our local region. We were able to quickly begin piloting PATH within the Harrisburg School District back in 2015. The main goal was to remove barriers for youth to receive mental health care before they become even larger needs.

PATH counselors focus on treatment and coping skills for students (and their families) struggling with common issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and relationship stresses among behavioral issues.  PATH counselors utilize a variety of therapy practices that best fit each child’s need and can include: music, art, and talk therapy.  

By working side by side with the student, family, school counselors, and the school district, PATH counselors are able to create a plan that will benefit the student. “PATH, is not meant to be a replacement for the school counselor,” as Jennifer Van’t Hul, Liberty School Counselor, mentions, “It takes a village and I am just one person.” 

At Liberty, her role is to oversee more than 480 students each week through classroom time, recess, lunch  and her normal office duties. Not to mention, the random needs that occur and pull her away multiple times a day. This could leave a troubled student, like Tiffany, without her one-on-one time and cause more anxiety or other issues throughout the day. Jennifer is very excited to have PATH at her Harrisburg school to allow for more of her students to receive the support they need. 

PATH is not for every student though. There is a process Jennifer follows to make sure this is the right option for each student. Van’t Haul will meet with a potential student 3 times before deciding, along with a meeting with their parent/guardian. 

“The biggest benefit of this program”, Van’t Hul states, “The PATH counselors come to the schools and meet with each student for their scheduled time. This allows for the students to continue through their day without missing much class or having others know what they are doing. Parents also don’t have to stress over missing work, which is a big thank you to United Way. For those families that aren’t able to afford help, this is the best option for them and they (students) enjoy going.” Van’t Hul mentions, “Students look forward to their scheduled time, as this is additional support for them within the school. PATH, has opened up more doors for these students and not just at Harrisburg, it will be great to bring to the surrounding communities too.”

During the 2015 piloted year, PATH served 50 students. With a successful 2018 United Way campaign, PATH anticipates serving 263 students in Canton, Dell Rapids, Harrisburg, Sioux Falls, and Tea Area. “Looking at the numbers is not everything though. We can’t look only at what is on paper, but how these students feel, act and look every day. As their counselor, I can see they are progressing in this program and overcoming their barriers. PATH is not meant to eliminate bad behavior, it is to help them cope, and learn how to handle challenges they face daily.” says Van’t Hul. 

Learn more about the benefit of PATH by joining Sioux Empire United Way on September 12 from 8:00am to 8:45am at the Washington Pavilion for the 2018 Campaign Kickoff. The event is free and all are encouraged to attend!