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Congratulations to the 2020 Jared's Fund Youth Fellowship!

With over 50 applications, Jared's Fund was deeply encouraged by the response of young people in the greater Montclair community and is proud to support another group of young leaders who are spearheading efforts to combat the stigma around mental health and illness. 

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Elias Benchekroun

"At the beginning of the fellowship my group and I had a plan for our podcast, and the end result was even better than expected. Our discussions with the directors, speakers,

and other fellows inspired us to produce an even better podcast. Although I care about mental health and de-stigmatizing it, I often neglected my own, and at Jared’s Fund, everyone always asked how we were doing and made sure we took care of ourselves, which I found incredibly helpful in managing the work throughout the fellowship."

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Genesis Whitlock

"The accessibility of the application process was one of the main reasons I wanted to apply. I knew about the application for weeks but I didn’t think I would be qualified but when I saw how simple the questions were to understand, I felt that I could fully express myself and my project idea. I absolutely loved the Speaker Series! I learned from most of them. I think Jared’s Fund did a great job at POC representation during the Speaker Series." 

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Jack Rodriquez-Vars

“I am eternally thankful for the experiences Jared’s Fund gave me to create the “Rehumanize” podcast. We had the intent from the beginning to create space for BIPOC voices who struggle with mental illness, and I feel as though we followed through with that. I am very proud of what we put out and have actually received messages from listeners who have told me how helpful it is to have a resource that is BIPOC focused. I learned so much about different cultures and how they treat mental health, but the most important thing I learned was the science behind intergenerational trauma and how it affects me as a person of color to this day, even though I am far removed from lots of the adversity my mother, grandmother, etc faced." 

Elias, Genesis, and Jack worked as a group to create “Rehumanize” a weekly podcast that allowed People of Color (POC) to speak openly about their struggles with mental health issues. In particular, the group focused on the implicit messages People of Color internalize on social media, which in turn make it difficult for them to speak about their struggles.  In addition to having frank discussions with their peers, about how they can be more conscious of how the stigma surrounding mental health is perpetuated, and affects them, this Fellowship cohort collected data in an effort to design a more open environment where people of color have access to the resources they need.

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Hannah Roche

"I came into the fellowship looking to improve the way mental health was treated at Montclair High School, specifically for freshmen. In working to improve and revamp MHS 101, I think we did just that. I learned so much about mental health throughout JFYF. Listening to stories is one of my favorite things, and with the Speaker Series, I was able to hear some amazing stories and learn from the speaker's personal experiences and growth. The techniques and ways of approaching mental health situations are definitely something I will always keep with me.”

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Khari Jenkins

"After conversations with Mr. Bayer and Ms. Testa, 'MHS 101' came into play and Mr. Bayer let us know that guidance was already in the process of creating a space for mental health resources within the school. We thought of the idea for the MHS Ambassadors. I created graphics to promote the Senior Ambassador program and Niamh created the application.”

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Niamh Cahill

"I always wanted to change the conversation around mental health directly at Montclair High School. When I joined the project with Hannah and Khari, I found that our goals all led down the same path: to directly change MHS culture and future experiences for students with mental illness. This fellowship taught me so much about the mental health system in America.”

Hannah, Khari and Niamh worked with the Montclair High School (MHS) guidance department on a program called “MHS 101” to acclimate MHS freshmen to mental health resources at the high school.  In conjunction with MHS 101, this group worked with guidance to create a Senior Ambassador program to directly connect Seniors and ninth graders at MHS so that the ninth graders would not feel so isolated or alone. The trio also hoped to establish a “safe space” in the MHS building where students could go to get information about mental health resources. 


In addition to the work they did together, Khari also did research on 504 Plans, which are formal plans that schools develop to give kids with disabilities the support that they need to succeed in a school setting. She created an easy-to-understand brochure on what these plans are, and how students can access them to receive the help that they require  The brochure can be found on the Jared’s Fund website.  Niamh was also instrumental in creating and releasing a mental health survey for MHS students which she presented to the principal and the guidance department to initiate change.

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Izzy Lubin

"I learned so much about the possible legal implications of having a mental illness. When it comes to stigma, we know how cruel people can be, but learning that there are ways people can be prevented from getting a job, and even simpler things like preventing people from getting a driver's license because of an illness you didn’t ask for – it's infuriating. Also, I learned how Black men are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia because of racial biases, and just so much more. I feel like as a person that intersects with so many identities, a lot of these facts I’ve known for a while, but seeing it on paper, putting a statistic to it, it’s such a cementing, yet disheartening experience. Knowing that we can use this information to spread awareness though, is going to make an impact." 

Izzy partnered with Dr. Denise Rodgers, MD, FAAFP for a research project on the stigma of mental health in POC communities, and possible ways to kickstart a discussion and implement services at urban schools, particularly her school, Orange High School. Izzy's mentor is Dr. Denise Rodgers who is the Vice Chancellor of interprofessional Programs at Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences.

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Maggie Arian

"I think that the most eye-opening thing that I learned (from this Fellowship) about mental health was truly how many people have been affected by suicide or attempted themselves. Although it is very difficult for me to truly grasp, it does make me feel less alone in my journey. I learned over and over that things do get better which I have heard hundreds of times, but it is so different hearing it from people who have truly been through what I am going through.  It is difficult to do but is so important to hear that you are not alone and that there will be people that are hurting and understand the pain you are going through.”

After her boyfriend and best friend took his own life in April of 2020, Maggie searched for hours to find any kind of support group or resource that could help her with the immense loss.  Not finding what she needed, Maggie’s Fellowship project was three-fold. First, she sought to amass resources for friends and families who are dealing with losing a loved one. Second, she wanted to work with the Montclair High School administration to discuss how to handle a such tragedies. Third, she hoped to establish a support group for young people who have lost loved ones to mental health issues.

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Zachary Lepak

"The piece I am actually most proud of is the work I did with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris. Thanks to the resources and hard work provided by Al Shurdom and Tracy Klingener, we were able to create four brief videos regarding suicide prevention, depression and anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorder. These connections were made possible because of my mentor Bob Davison who is the Executive Director of MHA. These videos are now tangible resources that can be shared in the high school for years to come. For that I am very proud."

Based on Instagram with outreaches into Facebook and Google classroom, Zach created a social media platform designed to reduce the stigma around mental illness and mental health issues.  Conducting interviews with mental health professionals from the Barnabas Adolescent Outpatient Center and with other professionals in the field of mental health, Zach brought together stories of celebrities, athletes, and actors that have struggled with mental illness with the goal to show that mental illness is no one’s fault and that it does not discriminate in terms of who is afflicted. You can find Zach’s Instagram page at: @end.the.stigma2020. Zach also worked with the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties to put together an abbreviated version of the Mental Health First Aid course offered by various cities and towns to educate people about what to do if someone needs help with a mental health crisis.  You can view these videos on the Jared’s Fund website.  

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