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03/09/2022 07:30 AM

Shelby Mehmet: Serving a Community that Served Her

Including outdoor experiences for the youths involved in Clinton’s REACT and Partners in Community programs is a simple choice for Shelby Mehmet, the town’s assistant prevention coordinator, as she herself has discovered much about herself on treks, such as this hike at Akaka Falls on The Big Island of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Shelby Mehmet

Just seven years ago, Shelby Mehmet was a Morgan student learning about the importance of healthy choices. Now, she’s helping lead those conversations as the town’s assistant prevention coordinator.

Shelby has worked in her current role for three years. Due to the recent departure of longtime prevention coordinator Kelley Edwards for a job with the state, Shelby has been running the Partners in Community (PIC) and REACT clubs that help encourage healthy choices in the community and students.

“I knew I wanted to come back and bring back what I learned to REACT and to Clinton,” Shelby says. “I was involved in PIC and REACT when I was in Morgan and It’s one of the things that helped me grow in high school.”

Shelby went to undergrad and graduate school at the University of Saint Joseph, where she says she “learned a lot about social work and program development.” Shelby says she’s worked to incorporate activities she learned in school “while continuing to do work I’ve done before.”

For example, Shelby says she is a proponent of “bringing different outdoor experiences to kids.” Shelby has partnered with an organization called Outdoor Perspectives that helps facilitate this goal.

“A few weeks ago, we went cross-country skiing and had a lot of fun. And while we were out there, we had conversations about mental health and personal development and things like that,” says Shelby.

Shelby says that by having more outdoor experiences that mix fun with productive conversations it can lead to kids being more comfortable sharing their thoughts than if they were in a traditional formal setting.

“It’s a way to push them passed their comfort zone into a place where they can really grow,” says Shelby. “There’s so many conversations and experiences we can have as young people outside in settings that were not used to.”

“Watching them experience that made me realize how it can really be a transformative experience for someone else. It was really transformative for me,” says Shelby.

When indoors, Shelby says that she and the Human Services Department are working on different community health initiatives that cover everything from combating vaping to helping with mental health awareness and fostering social development.

“I encourage people to please reach out to the department if they need support or have questions that needs answering,” Shelby says.

Beyond aspects like counseling or substance use prevention, Shelby pointed out that the department can help items like energy assistance, rent assistance, and more.

“If we can’t help you, we’ll connect you with someone who can,” says Shelby.

Part of Shelby’s main focus is working with students and the larger community to create bonds that lead to kids making safe choices.

“We work to empower and connect the different members of the Clinton community to help create a safe community,” says Shelby.

One way that’s done is through PIC, which Shelby says connects students with different sectors of the town such as police, business owners, town departments, and concerned citizens who “come together to make a meaningful difference to promote healthy choices.”

Meanwhile REACT also encourages healthy and safe choices, but is meant for students in grades 5 to 12 as opposed to the community at large.

Shelby says that PIC meetings are open to anyone in the community who’s interested and said the next one is on Monday, March 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Annex.

Asked her favorite part of her job, Shelby responds, “Working with the kids. I love being able to connect with them and be a part of who they are. Seeing them grow is amazing.”

Shelby says she really doesn’t have least favorite parts, but does admit there’s challenges.

“One of the big challenges is when we face some kind of barrier and we have to think about how to break down that barrier in a way that leads to healthy living,” she says. “Facing that barrier at first can sometimes be frustrating, but I wouldn’t say it’s the least favorite part.”

Shelby grew up in Clinton and was a member of The Morgan School class of 2015. Shelby credits her own volunteerism in clubs like REACT and PIC that started her on the path to studying social work in college and eventually returning to her hometown to work.

“I wanted to bring back what I learned to continue to grow and help the town,” says Shelby.

One unique twist of working for the town after being a somewhat recent grad is that Shelby was able to work with people she once learned from.

“Kelley Edwards has been a tremendous support and a key asset to our community. She has also remained a resource for me as well. It is actually really cool because she was one of the REACT advisors when I was in REACT in high school. Then she and I were able to work together to implement programming together for the young people of Clinton,” says Shelby.

In her spare time Shelby can be found outdoors hiking, kayaking, and learning how to skateboard.

“My favorite thing about Clinton is our community. We have a lot of people here who are passionate about making a difference,” says Shelby.