Jewish Healthcare Foundation supports teen mental health initiatives
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Jeremy Elias, left, Sarah Berlin and Imogen Snowdon enjoy a Friendship Circle Pittsburgh program. Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle Pittsburgh. Jeremy Elias, left, Sarah Berlin and Imogen Snowdon enjoy a Friendship Circle Pittsburgh program
COVID-19Jewish Healthcare Foundation

Jewish Healthcare Foundation supports teen mental health initiatives

$398,000 grant builds on prior commitment and aids local organizations with community-based programming

Main image by Photo courtesy of Friendship Circle Pittsburgh. Jeremy Elias, left, Sarah Berlin and Imogen Snowdon enjoy a Friendship Circle Pittsburgh program

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation awarded $398,000 to 14 local organizations to aid teen mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recipients include organizations currently providing emotional support, interactive experiences and other resources for teenagers.

The nearly $400,000 grant builds on a Jewish Healthcare Foundation commitment to supporting the next generation, explained JHF President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein.

“Any investment you make helping our teens become satisfied, productive, engaged members of the community is a really important investment,” said Feinstein.

COVID-19 has provided teens with new challenges. Whether it’s remaining at home with parents and younger siblings and attending virtual school, or restricting time spent with friends or engaging in extracurricular activities, COVID-19 has uprooted many common teenage routines.

Teens grappling with these changes are at “increased risk for depressive, anxiety and/or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms,” said Judith Cohen, medical director of the AGH Center for Traumatic Stress in Children & Adolescents, in a statement.

JHF President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD, delivers opening remarks during a 2019 program. Photo courtesy of Jewish Healthcare Foundation

The need to address teen mental health is reinforced by considerable data, said Feinstein.

In 2016, a community needs assessment, funded by the Jewish Fund and completed with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, 52% of teen respondents indicated that they or someone they were friends with struggled with anxiety and 42% reported that they or their friends struggled with depression.

Additional studies indicate that COVID-19 has exacerbated such difficulties.

A National 4H Council survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that 81% of teens believe that mental health is a significant concern for young people in the U.S., and that 64% of teens say that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health.

In Pittsburgh, young Jewish adults further noted COVID-19’s impact.

According to a study conducted by the Marilyn and Maurice Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (CMJS) at Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Center, and paid for by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, Pittsburgh’s 18-34-year-old demographic was most likely to feel lonely during the pandemic.

Both the Brandeis study, which surveyed 15,000 respondents in 10 different American Jewish communities about their experiences during April-May 2020, and a follow-up Sept. 8 webinar moderated by Pittsburgh Jewish community lay leader and Brandeis board of trustee member Cindy Shapira, demonstrated the critical need to support teen mental health, said Feinstein.

Repair the World at Garfield Community Farm. Photo provided by Repair the World

The issue has long been on the JHF’s radar: Following the October 2018 shootings at the Tree of Life building, the JHF dedicated funding for teen mental health.

What the newest grants will do is provide area teens — whether from Squirrel Hill, Homewood, Hazelwood, Lincoln-Larimer, or even the North and South Hills — with stress management and mindfulness skills, as well as opportunities for mentorship, tutoring and connections to trusted adults, said Deborah Murdoch, JHF’s program manager.

At the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, $72,000 in funding will provide teenagers the chance to enjoy increased safe in-person gatherings, as well as expand an internship program at the JCC’s The Second Floor, said Chris Herman, teen division director at the JCC.

Whereas The Second Floor previously offered internships to six teenagers and engagement experiences once a month, the grant will allow The Second Floor to welcome a total of 11 interns — six in Squirrel Hill, four in the South Hills and one in the North Hills — and between four and eight programs every four weeks, added Herman.

The Friendship Circle Pittsburgh will similarly use its $30,000 in funding to empower teens through a program called FC Crews. The peer-support initiative will enable teen leaders to become active listeners and supportive friends, which will ultimately benefit all of Friendship Circle’s teens, said Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, Friendship Circle’s executive director.

Along with aiding FC Crews, funding from the JHF will enable Friendship Circle to welcome a behavioral health specialist who will help shape the FC Crews program, added Rudolph.

From left: Adi Schreiber, Noah Indianer, Grayson Honig and Dora Gordon gather in 2018. Photo courtesy of The Second Floor of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

Recipients of the JHF grant are utilizing the funds in a variety of ways, said Murdoch.

At Repair the World Pittsburgh, volunteer and mentoring services will be bolstered, while a technology-based arts education will be advanced. At The CHILL project, a mindfulness program piloted at Baldwin High School by Allegheny Health Network, the use of expressive arts, including puppetry, painting, sculpting, dance and poetry to reach students with learning disabilities, will be increased in emotional support classes or with non-native English speakers.

The expectation is that funding will be used through either June or August 2021, depending on how each organization runs its programming schedule, said Murdoch.

The nearly $400,000 grant builds on JHF’s previous commitment to supporting community-based teen mental health programming.

In March 2020, the organization provided Jewish Family and Community Services with $80,000 to develop a teen mental health and wellness space called UpStreet. And although UpStreet is ultimately intended to be a Squirrel Hill-based drop-in center for teens, JFCS has responded to COVID-19 by providing virtual programs and a web-based peer support network under the UpStreet banner, said Feinstein.

Moving forward, JHF is excited to see how its newest grant recipients utilize funding to benefit area teens, noted Murdoch. Additionally, JHF will enable the organizations to collaborate and share ideas by welcoming each grant recipient into a newly formed teen mental health agency alliance.

Ultimately, although no one knows when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, it’s clear that teens are suffering and require immediate attention, said Feinstein: “We know it’s a problem. Studies indicate it’s a problem. We have to do something.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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