South Orange’s Community Care & Justice celebrates one year anniversary – Essex News Daily

Photo courtesy of Julie Doran
Village President Sheena Collum, Jamila T. Davis and Professor Juan Rios of Seton Hall University celebrate the recipient of the Social Justice Activation award Meet Her at the Gate, a program to support ex-incarcerated women.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – South Orange Village is celebrating the one year anniversary of its Community Care & Justice program start. Throughout March, the Community Care & Justice team will host a “Listen, Learn and Share” tour to identify additional community service needs, share community wellness tips and trends, and solicit donations to support the of program budget allocated to Essex County and Seton Hall University for the pilot year.

Initiated by South Orange President Sheena Collum, the Community Care & Justice program is a collaboration between the South Orange Community, Seton Hall University and Essex County. The initiative seeks to rethink traditional models of public safety through the broader lens of community wellbeing and with a greater focus on crisis prevention. Through outreach and knowledge sharing, Community Care & Justice engages residents, first responders and social workers in a more proactive, preventative and collective approach to mental health and wellbeing and public health and safety. The program is sponsored by Trustee Donna Coallier, Chair of the Village Health and Public Safety Committee, and is directed by Jayme Ganey, Program Director. Community Care & Justice uses grassroots education and social work to achieve programmatic goals.

“Our timing couldn’t have been better,” Collum said. “So many are feeling desperate, whether because of the lingering effects of the pandemic or the racial trauma that has culminated in an urgent call for action and police reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. It is still a work in progress and the success of the pilot year is a true testament to the community engagement, support of law enforcement officials and our shared desire to learn and adapt to the needs of the people in and around our village.”

Throughout 2021, the CC&J team focused on participating in community conversations and networking, building a data analysis and research infrastructure, conducting a survey to collect input from residents, analyzing available first responder data, and developing policies and Procedures for outreach programs. The CC&J network now includes first responders, school resources, neighboring communities, community organizations, mental health and education organizations, and academic institutions with social justice initiatives.

CC&J’s outreach team officially began receiving referrals on October 18, 2021. To help first responders make referrals and better serve the community, the South Orange Police Department Outreach Team and South Orange Rescue Squad offer mental health awareness training. Referral tracking includes supportive counseling and case management services for those affected by issues such as mental health crises, racial trauma, substance use, domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness and more. The CC&J Outreach Team also has designated office hours at Police Headquarters where team members can speak with officers about mental health issues and collaborate on the referral program.

“Our outreach program is a key priority for 2022,” Coallier said. “Right now, law enforcement officers and EMTs are referring those who might benefit from outreach to our outreach team. We aim to convert this initial crisis response into on-the-ground support as we gain more experience and strengthen our funding sources.”

CC&J’s educational program covers a wide spectrum of mental health and wellness, ranging from raising awareness of anxiety and depression to treating racial trauma and prejudice. Initiatives included a wellness series offering youth anxiety management, suicide prevention and other relevant mental health topics, as well as several collaborations with Seton Hall University, including an eight-week Social Justice Activation collaboration led by Jamila T. Davis and Professor Juan Rios, who guided participants through a social service development curriculum and awarded seed money to two teams to implement community-based services. Other collaborations with Seton Hall have included the Peace and Community Justice speaker series, featuring civil rights icon Bernard LaFayette Jr. speaking to community youth activists, and an immersive virtual reality platform that allows a participant to embody an avatar confronting racism.

“I’m impressed with all the accomplishments in just a short year,” said Ganey. “I am deeply grateful to be in this new and exciting role, working with an amazing team of professionals and volunteers to advance our mission and program goals.”

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