N.J. Pandemic Relief Fund to provide $2.5M in grants to address mental health issues

5 nonprofit organizations will receive funds aimed at addressing issues among schoolchildren in vulnerable populations

The New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund announced it is providing nearly $2.5 million in grants to five nonprofit organizations in an effort to address the impact the pandemic has had on mental health issues of the state’s most vulnerable populations — particularly school-age children.

The grants will focus on providing school-centered mental health service programming; peer-to-peer training to help identify mental health conditions and addiction symptoms among family, friends and community members; teen support and suicide prevention; and a program that provides peer-to-peer-emotional support for frontline workers.

The following organizations will receive grants:

National Council for Behavioral Health and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation: They will receive a $1.2 million grant to train students and educators in teen Mental Health First Aid so they have the skills to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use issues.

Teen Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based training program that teaches teens in grades 10-12 how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health and substance use challenges and crises among their friends. The training gives teens the skills to have supportive conversations with their friends and get a responsible and trusted adult to take over as necessary.

The funding would allow the organizations to train students at 50 high schools or youth organizations, with the goal of reaching 18,750 students.

The Mental Health Association in New Jersey: It will receive a $525,000 grant to increase access to mental health support for families of color impacted by COVID-19, focusing on the most impacted counties in the state. The project will closely collaborate with spiritual and community-based organizations to help families deal with this crisis.

MHANJ will create a virtual COVID-19 Emotional Support Center that will offer culturally relevant behavioral health resources, virtual supports and education groups, information and referral, and family support services. The organization will provide counseling, support groups and education programs that recognize racism and its impact on the behavioral health of people of color, and work to increase awareness, education and engagement with behavioral health with key stakeholders in communities of color.

Nurse2Nurse Peer Support Helpline: It will receive a $441,000 to support a help line hosted by the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care National Call Center. The center will collaborate with the New Jersey Nursing Initiative to provide resources and to connect with the nursing community.

A reported one-third of nurses have experienced severe mental health issues due to the ongoing crisis. A Nurse2Nurse peer support program will enable nurses to connect with peers to assist them with their challenges before they reach a point of crisis.

More than 200,000 registered and other nurses throughout the state of New Jersey will have access to this line, which is also being made available to the family members of nurses.

The Foundation for Educational Administration: It will receive a $200,000 grant to support a pilot program developed by the Foundation for Educational Administration to provide school staff with training and coaching on Adverse Childhood Experiences, Mental Health First Aid and healing-centered practices so they can support students in 25 public schools who are suffering from traumatic events.

The Jed Foundation: It is receiving a $120,450 grant to provide scholarship funds to enable three colleges in the state to join JED Campus, a program designed to guide schools through a collaborative process program and policy development with customized support to build upon existing student mental health, substance use and suicide prevention efforts.

JED has identified a particularly high need for COVID-related mental health services among BIPOC and Latinx populations. Across the country, 353 colleges representing 4.1 million students are JED Campus colleges. In New Jersey, the funding will allow the JED Foundation to work with three colleges to become JED Campuses.

First lady Tammy Murphy, the founding chair of NJPRF, stressed the importance of addressing the mental health needs of our vulnerable populations.

“The coronavirus has had an adverse effect on the mental health of many New Jerseyans, but it has disproportionately impacted communities of color, students and frontline workers,” she said.

NJPRF CEO Josh Weinreich said the grants will provide critical initial resources to begin addressing the issue, while encouraging other stakeholders to join the effort.

“We hope these grants will encourage partner organizations to make funding mental health programs a near-term priority,” Weinreich said “We see opportunities to address mental health and wellness through programs that build and reinforce resilience, reduce stigma and encourage positive interventions.”

NJPRF was established in March 2020 to raise funds and organize and coordinate resources to fight the medical, social and economic impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey’s most vulnerable. To date, the fund has raised more than $64 million from more than 62,000 donors, including a $20 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. It has distributed more than $39.5 million to more than 460 nonprofit organizations throughout the state.