Congratulations to the 2021 Jared's Fund Youth Fellowship Recipients!

Jared's Fund was deeply encouraged by the response of young people in the 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. Our Summer fellowship has concluded. Please check out the results of the projects all devoted to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness!

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Alizaya Londono

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Devany Kurtti

"The last 6 weeks have taught me that community resources are available and mental health is progressively becoming an open conversation.  Major take-aways from the fellowship have been greater exposure to like-minded people in mental health, the youth's capability to create change, and middle schoolers' position with mental health. 'Growing Mental Warriors' gave me the platform to view mental health from middle schoolers' perspectives, provided by Jared's Fund and the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris. I was not only proud of Jared's Fund as an organization, but Jared's Fund made me feel proud of myself for working on change for mental  health and for becoming a mental health warrior!"   Alizaya Londono

" One of the most important things I learned during this fellowship is that it's okay to have difficult and trying days and the most important thing is taking care of yourself and being honest about your feelings. I would also say I learned that many people have the same struggles as me and opening up about them will help rather than hurt in my ultimate journey. I learned so much from resources on family therapy, DBT, suicide prevention, and how to help friends in need. I am so lucky to have these tools and hope to pass them along to my new community at Rutgers!" Devany Kurtti

The purpose of Alizaya's and Devany's project for Jared's Fund Youth Fellowship, "Growing Mental Warriors", is to address the conversation around mental health with younger audiences. We aim to have age-appropriate discussions with middle school children. Middle school is a vulnerable time for children as puberty occurs, and in many cases, mental illness onsets by 14 years old. Our project wants to spread awareness about mental health and the importance of being knowledgeable about mental issues. Each session will educate participants on a specific topic concerning mental health. The goal is to end the stigma around mental health, debunk misconceptions, and to help young people become as aware of their mental health as they are of their physical health.

Alizaya is a rising sophomore at Rutgers University studying Psychology.  Devany is a rising freshwoman who will be attending Rutgers Fall 2021 to study Psychology. Tracy Klingener, MA, DRCC, LAC Director of Suicide Prevention Services, from the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris will be their Mentor.

Click on Alizaya's and Devany's photos to read more about them and their project.

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Maura McGeever

"From this fellowship I learned  that it's okay to talk about/acknowledge negative feelings and that talking about them with your friends makes everyone feel more comfortable. I also learned that talking about mental health normalizes it and allows people to talk about it more freely. I also feel like the fellowship is the perfect balance of responsibility and friendship. I was able to connect with some of the other fellows that I have known for years but have never had the opportunity to connect with them in the way that this fellowship gave me."   Maura McGeever

Click on Maura's, Natalie's and Salma's photos to read more about them and their project.

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Natalie Smith

"I loved the Speaker Series! I truly learned so much from each speaker that took the time to share their story. Each speaker was so different, however all left us with such important and interesting information.

Not only have I learned more about myself and how to handle my own feelings, but I have learned how to help others. In school, we were never really taught about mental health and in just 6 weeks, I feel like I can help my friends, family, or even someone I'm not so close with who is struggling." Natalie Smith

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Salma Benchekroun

"The biggest take-aways for me from this fellowship are definitely how to better deal with and support people with mental illness. I also got an understanding, through the Speaker Series, of the many people who are a part of the community and are trying to end the stigma around mental health and it feels really nice to know. Going forward I will try my best to use my understanding of mental illness to support people and educate others." Salma Benchekroun

Maura's, Natalie's, and Salma's project for Jared's Fund Youth Fellowship is to build a stress free, mental health garden at MHS. The garden will be called "Jared's Garden" dedicated to ending the stigma of mental illness. The garden will be a place for any and all MHS students to relax, gather their thoughts, and feel at ease while at school. We want this garden to be a comfortable, and beautiful spot on campus. We plan on placing a bench in the middle of the garden and creating three stone-tile paths leading to the bench.  We want these stones to honor former MHS students who dealt with mental health issues, so some of the stones will be dedicated to specific people. We also plan on having a raised garden bed or two with manageable flowers and plants. and possibly painted rocks to enhance the environment.  We think hosting an event towards the end of the summer or beginning of the school year where students from MHS and people from the Montclair community can come and paint rocks will be a great way to make the garden more personal for everybody. The rocks will vary from having quotes, artwork, inspirational messages and dedications.

Thank you to Misty Avinger and Marley Pradieu from the 2019 JFYF Cohort who created this idea and started the process with the Montclair Board of Education.

Maura is a rising Senior at Montclair High School.  Natalie and Salma are rising Juniors at Montclair High School. Ms. Brianne Kvetkus who is an Art Teacher at MHS and also the Advisor for “End the Stigma” Club at MHS will be their Mentor.

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Alejandro Ledesma

"I have learned a lot more about the community, and about the people trying to make change. There are so many amazing people who are trying to help others in this space. I have also learned much more about the intricacies of mental health, including how medication is used in treatment and other ways to help people with mental health issues. This was an amazing experience for me, and there are things that I learned during this period that will stay with me forever. Everyone was so warm and welcoming including the fellows. The collaborative spirit and inclusiveness were reflective of the kind of people who want to help and make a positive impact on their community." Alejandro Ledesma

Alejandro's project for the Jared’s Fund Youth Fellowship involves promoting mindfulness and meditation for young people, which can be a powerful tool for managing stress and maintaining focus and balance in daily life. To spread the word about the benefits of mindfulness within our community, I am partnering with the Mindful Awareness Academy for Children, (MAAC) serving as a type of student ambassador and setting up and coordinating mindfulness meetups around Montclair this summer. I am also building a website where I will promote the meetups and provide information and resources for students interested in mindfulness and meditation. Lastly, I am attending virtual mindfulness meetings with Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) and hopefully interviewing their teenage participants about their experience with mindfulness practices and meditation.

Alejandro is a rising Senior at Montclair High School.  Andrea Smith-Morgan founder of MAAC will be Alejandro’s mentor.

Click on Alejandro's photo to read more about him and his project.

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Elijah Pradieu

" The Speaker Series is great! It's so interesting to be able to hear about people's experiences with mental health. The speakers were so open and welcoming about what they have been through it created a connection and a bond between them and the fellows. I learned that I need to be more aware of what people around me may be experiencing and that mental illness could affect anyone at any time. It's so important to take care of your mental health and maintain a good mindset.  The fellowship has taught me that people can overcome mental health issues and work towards ending the stigma surrounding it." Elijah Pradieu

Elijah's project for the Jared’s Fund Youth Fellowship is to create a short documentary film, that will focus on local skaters and how skateboarding can help maintain a healthy mindset. I think that a film that young audiences can connect with is an extremely beneficial tool to use to be able to connect with youth around mental health issues. Hopefully, the film will have the ability to impact different groups of people and tear down any stigmas that have been associated with skaters and with anyone who suffers from mental health issues. The documentary will draw the viewers into the lives of young skaters who use their hobbies to cope with the stress of the world. I hope that my work with the fellowship will be able to impact individuals and give them the opportunity to make a positive impact on their future by reflecting on their everyday activities. Elijah is a rising Junior at Montclair High School.  Al Shurdom who is the Coordinator of Self Help, Advocacy and Education for the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris will be Elijah's Mentor.

Click on Elijah's photo to read more about him and watch his video!