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Tipping Point–Reaching out to our emerging adults before another tragedy strikes

From her apartment at a Ronald McDonald house in Boston, Lisa Zabian can look across the street to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center and literally see into her daughter Khali’s hospital room. For the past several months, Zabian has called this small place home, even though her real home—where her husband and her other children and her church are found—is in Lee. But she won’t leave until her daughter comes back with her.

In August, 19-year-old Khali was hit by a car while she was inspecting the damage to her own car that had crashed into the guardrails on Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington. It was just after 10 p.m., and Khali, who was preparing to return for her second year at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, was on her way home from work.

Khali’s journey—she suffered massive brain trauma and broken bones and has already had several surgeries—has sparked a global prayer chain and a local “Khali Strong” campaign. It has also brought out mixed emotions of a community that has experienced so much tragedy around its young people. According to the Great Barrington police, the 17-year-old boy who hit Khali has been charged with operating under the influence of marijuana causing serious bodily injury.

“I’ve had a few conversations with people who are angry and bitter about this,” says Jana Bush, who is a family friend of the Zabians. “But any one of our kids could make a mistake like that.”

“I’m not angry,” Khali’s mother says. “When tragedy strikes our young people, forgiveness is just a huge thing.
“I’m getting through—we’re getting through this—because of our faith.”

The previous August, Cara Carnevale’s oldest son Nick, then also 19, survived a near-fatal shooting during a party at the October Mountain State Park in Washington. Nick reportedly accompanied a woman who used to date one of four suspects charged in the shooting. Nick was shot three times, including in the head, and has had four major surgeries.

Community outpouring and fundraising have been tremendous and so important, says Nick’s mother. “If all these kids in the community had the support that Nick and Khali have had from the get-go—before the shooting, before the accident—can you even imagine? They could do anything. I know we’re all capable of doing that as a community.”

That means reaching them, teaching them, listening to them, before tragedy does strike. According to Berkshire United Way’s Prevention Needs Assessment Survey of students in eighth, tenth, and 12th grades, the greatest risk factors are a decreasing perception of the risk of drug use, increasing rewards for antisocial behavior, and increasing depressive behaviors.

“We are at a tipping point,” says Berkshire County district attorney Andrea Harrington. “My number-one concern here is the lack of mental health services for young people and adults. I also have the overall impression that there are more young people in our community with access to firearms who don’t have criminal records.”

This group—what she calls emerging adults—is at the highest risk for violence, accidents, drug use, and incarceration. Harrington is so concerned that she has testified at the Massachusetts State House to raise the juvenile jurisdiction to age 20.

“Eighteen to 20 year olds have the worst outcomes,” says Harrington, “more than any other demographic. They spend more time incarcerated; they have the highest recidivism rates. There’s acknowledgement across the state that what we’ve been doing is not working. These are young people learning how to be adults. Identifying those who need positive interventions is critical to getting them on a better path.”

Tyler Carnevale, Nick’s younger brother who is in his first year at Siena College, credits the outpouring of support after his brother was shot for helping to choose a solid path for himself.

“I lived with my friend and his family, and they weren’t the only ones to offer their homes to me while my parents were with Nick,” he says. “It was a very difficult time, and I felt very cared for. I haven’t always been too focused on school, but knowing that people were there for me, I wanted to work hard. I wanted to have dreams and to follow them.”

Nick, too, has changed dramatically, for the better. “The way people helped and continue to help and to support us and him, it’s proof, like real proof to me, that I as person can make a difference in the world. And he can make a difference. A big one.”

Find help connecting with teens and young adults through your school guidance department, faith organizations, Berkshire United Way, DA’s office, community centers (YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, Berkshire South, Railroad Street Youth Project), Berkshire Community Action Council, Salvation Army, 18 Degrees, and others.

Photo at top: Nick Carnevala (middle) with his parents at their home in Cheshire, Massachusetts

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