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United Way and College of Saint Elizabeth Partner on $800,000 School Climate Initiative

Morristown, N.J. (October 27, 2014) – United Way of Northern New Jersey is proud to announce an $800,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) that will help address the ongoing mental health needs of public school students in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

This grant makes it possible to provide the award-winning School Culture and Climate Initiative, a collaboration between United Way and the College of Saint Elizabeth, to more than a dozen public schools in northern New Jersey communities repeatedly hit hard by natural disasters. The Initiative will tackle both the post-traumatic stress still being experienced by students and build resilience for future events.

In a nationally-recognized partnership, United Way and College of Saint Elizabeth are offering schools a three-year process for assessing and improving school climates and cultures that will serve as this project's foundation. The Initiative is already reaching 25,000 students in 12 Morris County public school districts that embraced it in response to the state's anti-bullying mandates calling for schools to focus on their culture.

Through the Initiative, NewBridge Services Inc., will be brought in to provide targeted, school-based mental health assistance to both students and staff to address current needs stemming from Hurricane Sandy and provide training on prevention techniques for the future.

"Hurricane Sandy opened many eyes about the vulnerability of our state's infrastructure and the communities involved with us are ones continually at risk," said United Way of Northern New Jersey CEO John Franklin. "Children feel the stress that rolls off the adults in their lives during emergencies and that affects them all throughout the day – at home, at school and in the community. Thanks to this generous grant we are able to bring the best professional resources to these students and the adults in their lives so they can recover and gain resilience."

The Foundation chose to fund United Way's proposal due to the Initiative's comprehensive approach for equipping the entire school community – from administrators, teachers and staff to students and parents – with the tools needed to help everyone respond to stress and trauma in healthier ways, leading to success at school and in life. This grant is part of the Foundation's broad commitment to addressing the long-term mental health repercussions of the storm.

"The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is pleased to support this work. United Way's approach is special in that it establishes a common framework that engages everyone within a school," said Wendy Yallowitz, program officer at RWJF. "We believe this approach can achieve long-term, sustainable results and help build a Culture of Health in participating schools and their communities."

The model that will be implemented in some 17 schools, including ones in Morris and Somerset counties, is based on the research and work of foremost experts in the field, including Rutgers University Professor Maurice Elias, Ph.D. United Way Youth Empowerment Alliance and College of Saint Elizabeth Center for Human and Social Development teamed up in 2012 to offer this systemic approach, called the School Culture and Climate Initiative. This Initiative was awarded a 2014 national Promising Practice award by the Washington, D.C.-based Character Education Partnership.

"The research is clear – students who feel connected to school, who are in schools with positive cultures and climates and an intentional focus on developing social-emotional skills and character are more likely to have better academic achievement, fewer behavioral issues and thereby are prepared to be successful in life," said College of Saint Elizabeth Dean of Human and Social Development Patricia Heindel, Ph.D.

Through this grant, United Way is able to also provide the schools with mental health services. By partnering with NewBridge, trained clinicians will provide school-based mental health counseling for any student identified as having chronic mental health issues as well as those affected by Hurricane Sandy. All students will receive training in how to cope with traumatic stress. Also, select staff will receive mental health first aid training.

"It can take many months after an event for issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress and anxiety to emerge," said NewBridge Services CEO Robert Parker. "Through this work, we will help students and staff develop positive coping skills to help them get through tough times."

For more information about College of Saint Elizabeth Center for Human and Social Development, email Patricia Heindel at pheindel@cse.edu or call (973) 290-4102.

For more information about United Way Youth Empowerment Alliance, email Michelle.Roers@UnitedWayNNJ.org or call (973) 993-1160, x116.

For more information about NewBridge Services Inc., email Robert Parker at parker@newbridge.org.

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Founded in 1899 by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth, the College of Saint Elizabeth has a strong tradition of concern for the poor, for developing leadership in a spirit of service and social responsibility, and a commitment to the promotion of women as full partners in society.

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