By Michelle Rusgo, LJCC Youth Programs Coordinator
In a first-of-its kind-partnership, JCC Association of North America and the BBYO Center for Adolescent Wellness (BBYO-CAW), with support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, will collaborate to assess and support mental, emotional, and social health among adolescents.
The pilot initiative comes as mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have surged among adolescents who have been isolated from their peer groups as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initial pilot will use resources from BBYO-CAW to assess and address the preparedness and ability of five Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) to support the needs of the youth they serve. All costs will be covered by the Jim Joseph Foundation. The five participating JCCs are: Mayerson JCC (Cincinnati, Ohio), Bender JCC of Greater Washington (Greater Washington, D.C.), Michael-Ann Russell JCC (North Miami Beach), Tucson JCC (Arizona), and our own Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center (Charlotte, North Carolina).
This initiative marks the first time JCC Association of North America and BBYO have joined forces to bring a BBYO-CAW program to the JCC field.
“JCC professionals are often on the front lines in observing what may be emerging issues affecting the well-being of adolescents,” said Doron Krakow, president and CEO of JCC Association of North America, adding, “This partnership is all the more meaningful in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. BBYO is the ideal partner for us, to ensure that we’ll be well-positioned to provide the services and support our teens may require.”
“BBYO has a wonderful relationship with the Levine JCC and we hold many of our weekly programs there, so we could not be more thrilled that they were selected as one of the five JCCs to participate in this initial pilot,” said Ellen Goldstein, area director, BBYO. “As we emerge from a year of disruption and isolation and face an increase in mental health and wellness concerns among young people, the notion that this initiative will help ensure safe environments for the teens in our care is a win for everyone involved.”
Drew Fidler, director of BBYO’s Center for Adolescent Wellness, said, “Given the expected post-pandemic influx of activity from audiences with these potential needs, we understand how important it is for JCCs to be organizationally ready to support the youth populations they serve. Our goal is for this partnership between JCC Association and BBYO-CAW to further enable our Jewish communities to be a place where young people can thrive mentally, emotionally and socially.”
Michelle Rusgo, the youth programs coordinator for the Levine JCC and current Merrin Teen Fellow will act as the liaison between the LJCC and BBYO-CAW. “This is an amazing opportunity to bring the community together in order to build positive relationships between our staff and the teens we serve. The mental health of our youth and teens is what we need to focus on right now. This collaboration will help to create a successful plan to support our youth from the ground up.”
Using BBYO-CAW’s Youth Wellness Assessment tool, JCCs will better understand how their policies, procedures, and training create and ensure safe environments for young people. The tool incorporates best practices, local and national laws, and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Camp Association.
After the assessment, BBYO-CAW will provide reports to each JCC, identifying both strengths and areas in need of improvement, and assist the JCCs in making changes and creating new policies and procedures to ensure safe settings. This pilot will provide BBYO-CAW with data to help refine the services it offers to all youth-serving organizations.
As part of its engagement, to occur through the summer and fall, BBYO-CAW will also provide two customized training sessions to each JCC. These sessions may cover such topics as mandated reporting, building and maintaining appropriate boundaries with children and adolescents, recognizing mental health red flags, and helping children and adolescents with mental health issues.