Q&A with Karen Peterson of Youth Health Connection

For 26 years, Youth Health Connection (YHC) has been a vital partner for schools, parents, peer leaders and other key stakeholders working as one toward a common goal: helping young people deal with the challenges they face as they grow and mature.

Program Coordinator Kim Noble, BS, MBA, RN recently left the organization after years of dedicated work in the community. But Youth Health Connection isn’t going anywhere. South Shore Health has tapped Karen Peterson, a longtime Duxbury resident with deep experience in advocacy and outreach, to continue this great program.

We sat down with Karen to learn more about her background and the future of YHC.

Karen Peterson of South Shore Health's Youth Health Connection

What is your role with Youth Health Connection?

As the new Community Benefits Coordinator for South Shore Health, I will be overseeing the Youth Health Connection and South Shore FACTS, as well as other community initiatives that are needed.

What’s your background?

I originally attended school for business and economics, and then I decided to follow my passion of exercise science. I am a certified exercise physiologist, and have had the opportunity to apply that in my work at the South Shore YMCA over the last 13 years, which also included management, operations and community outreach. Through my work at the Y, I became involved in medical wellness, where I started applying for grants (and getting them!) to create evidence-based health interventions and connections with clinical providers.

The work that inspired me to continue in this direction was the participation in the Prevention Wellness Trust Fund, which was created by the Legislature in 2012 in an effort to expand disease prevention and wellness efforts across the state. I had the opportunity to work with South Shore Health as one of the key partners in this initiative of linking participants to needed health programs and resources.

As that work was finishing, I decided to go back to school once again. I am in the process of finishing my master’s program at George Washington University in Health Informatics and Analytics. My work with Dr. Wayne Westcott at Quincy College as an adjunct professor in his exercise science department also inspired me in this direction.

I was drawn to this program initially because I found through all of my grant work, we had all of this data that could help show impact in our communities, as well as best practices for future interventions. I have one more 10 week session this fall, and then I will be finished with my master’s program!

You must be excited to put that knowledge to work!

I am very excited to be on the healthcare side of community benefits. The health of a community isn’t just addressed at a hospital or a doctor’s office.

I really love the vision South Shore Health has in making it a priority to reach out in the community and really connect with people where they are at.

It is what people do on a daily basis that gives them their overall health and well-being.

The questions that we need to answer are, how do we show what we are doing and how are we helping our community? How do we continue to inspire people to be involved? Whether it’s from a standpoint of funding sources, donors or participants, that’s where the numbers come in and through analyzing the data, we can answer those questions.

What appealed to you about making the jump from the YMCA to Youth Health Connection?

The community work. I have known and worked with Tina Dwyer (Director of Care Coordination and Community Benefits Officer at South Shore Health) for many years, and I have loved working with her. I did not know Barbara Green, PhD. well, but she has built this amazing connection of youth resources and I am excited to work with her as well. Together with their support, I feel that we can make a difference!

Learn more about the history of Youth Health Connection.

In my work at the SSYMCA, I have received the Youth Health Connection newsletter for years and it has been a great resource.  I feel that I have found the next way to make an impact using my experience, connections and knowledge in an area that is so needed in our community.

I don’t look at this work as a job. It is a way to make an impact and I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.

I am very interested in the behavioral health aspect of the Youth Health Connection. Having an exercise science background, I have a lot of knowledge about physical health. My work in the community has shown the need for mental health support as well, and is such an important aspect of overall health. I am excited to connect my background of physical well-being with mental well-being as we offer resources to our community.

What do you see as the future for Youth Health Connection?

I feel like we have this tremendous base of support in the community that has been developed over the many years of the Youth Health Connection. I am excited to continue this great work as the connections and the support I have already received in a few short weeks have been overwhelming.

In looking at ways to bring this to the next level, we recognize that we have a great opportunity to leverage technology. We also recognize that people are very, very busy in their everyday lives and the ability to get information to them in different ways will be crucial to the growth and success of the program.

We are here as a resource, but also as a conduit to connect other people. There are so many different problems facing our youth these days and we cannot do it alone. If we can all come together in a positive way, we can truly have an impact on the lives in our communities.

To learn more about how to get involved with YHC, please contact Karen at 781-624-7415.