Imani Center set to close due to budget cuts

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IRVINGTON, NJ — Located on the Irvington High School campus, the longstanding Imani Center is losing its funding. Gov. Phil Murphy’s revised fiscal 2021 budget proposes a cut of $11.917 million, which would bring an end to statewide school-based youth services programs, widely known as SBYSPs, effective Sept. 30. The budget cut would also mean the loss of matching federal funds to support these critical behavioral health services.

According to a media release from The Bridge, which runs the Imani Center, the SBYSP, which have been operating successfully since 1988, are currently providing services to at-risk children in more than 90 schools throughout New Jersey. The Imani Center is one such program.

“School-based programs are an umbrella under the Family and Community Partnerships’ Office of School-Linked Services,” Imani Center Director Beverly Canady said on Sept. 18. “Family and Community Partnerships’ Office of School-Linked Services contracts with private nonprofit organizations and school districts to provide prevention and support services for youth in New Jersey’s elementary, middle and high schools. OSLS’s programs aim to implement prevention and intervention programs that are comprehensive and multifaceted and build on the strengths of young people so they can achieve their educational and life goals.

“The SBYSP are located in host schools and coordinate with existing resources in the community,” Canady, who has led the Imani Center since 1988, continued. “SBYSP are comprehensive, student-centered health and wellness programs that provide direct services to all students on-site. The goal of the SBYSP is to help young people navigate their adolescent years, finish their education, obtain skills leading to employment or continuing education, and graduate healthy and drug free.”

The Imani Center is run by The Bridge, a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral health care services designed to strengthen families and support the growth of community members.

“Since 1971, we have provided thousands of Essex County children and adults with superb community mental health and substance use care. Our vision is to promote balance, healing and hope,” Canady said.

According to Canady, The Bridge offers programs that cover outpatient mental health counseling, school-based youth services such as the Imani Center, substance-use prevention and counseling, family preservation counseling and the Peace Model Project, which works with younger children.

“The Bridge serves more than 3,500 people,” Canady said. “The Imani Center is a one-stop shop, offering a myriad of services and resources that are available in one place. ‘Imani’ means faith in Swahili, and our focus and motivation is to help all of our youth by creating a space where they feel they matter. Our impact runs deep and wide. Many students return to the Imani Center years later as an adult to see how the site has grown.

“Our community-based program in Irvington is directed towards teens and their families in Essex County,” she continued. “The program’s purpose is to help youth stay in school, graduate, continue their education or gain skills to obtain employment.”

The Imani Center wore many hats for the community, “participating on numerous school committees, such as the principal’s planning cabinet, the child-study and crisis-management teams, and the individuals charged with attendance review, conflict resolution, behavior and discipline, and school safety as well as guidance counselors, deans, JROTC, and the National Honor Society,” Canady said.

According to Canady, the Imani Center is also used for a host of other activities, such as planning and executing school events such as freshman orientation; conducting classes, workshops and in-service sessions on various topics; advocating for and supporting special groups of students such as LGBTQ, teen parents, special education students, homeless youth and youth of immigrants; and providing substance-abuse prevention and crisis-management support, including counseling, grief-management home visits and addressing schoolwide tragedies and crises.

“Many of our consumers have been productive in their lives,” Canady said of the program’s success. “Many have returned to share their success of becoming authors, entrepreneurs, medics and much more. We have generational influence and a strong collaboration with community-based churches, schools and local business to provide the necessary services based on the needs of individuals.”

Losing the program will be a hard blow to many, according to Canady.

“These cuts will hurt The Bridge financially,” Canady said. “Due to N.J. state budget cuts brought on by the pandemic, the Imani Center will not be able to continue operating in the township of Irvington without securing other sources of funding. During this global pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted communities of color, these cuts are clearly inappropriate. Addressing trauma will be critical as we face the collective grief brought on by illness, death, social isolation, racial injustice, unemployment, food and housing insecurities, violence, depression, and much more. In view of such conditions and with these experiences, the results can exacerbate the health conditions of many of our youth and families. This can cause chronic illness, high morbidity and even death. Now more than ever, Irvington youth and families need accessible mental health, social service and support, such as those services provided through the Imani Center.”

Photos Courtesy of Beverly Canady