South Orange’s Community Care & Justice celebrates the one-year anniversary

Photo Courtesy of Julie Doran
Village President Sheena Collum, Jamila T. Davis and Seton Hall University professor Juan Rios celebrate the ‘Social Justice Activation’ award recipient, Meet Her at the Gate, a program to help formerly incarcerated women.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange Village is celebrating the one-year anniversary of its Community Care & Justice program launch. Throughout March, the Community Care & Justice team will host a “Listen, Learn and Share” tour to identify further social service needs, share community wellness tips and trends, and seek donations to augment the pilot year program budget provided by the township, Essex County and Seton Hall University.

The Community Care & Justice program was initiated by South Orange President Sheena Collum and is a collaboration between the South Orange community, Seton Hall University and Essex County. The initiative seeks to reimagine traditional models of public safety through the larger lens of community wellness and with a greater emphasis on crisis prevention. Through outreach and knowledge sharing, Community Care & Justice engages residents, first responders and social work professionals in a more proactive, preventative and collective approach to mental health and wellness, and public health and safety. The program is sponsored by Trustee Donna Coallier, chairperson of the village’s Health and Public Safety Committee, and led by Jayme Ganey, program director. Community Care & Justice deploys grassroots community education and social work outreach to accomplish programmatic goals.

“Our timing could not have been better,” Collum said. “So many are feeling distress, whether from the ongoing impact of the pandemic or the racial trauma that peaked into urgent demand for action and police reform after the murder of George Floyd. It’s a work in progress and the success of the pilot year is a true testament to community engagement, buy-in from law enforcement professionals, and our collective desire to learn and adapt to the needs of people in and around our village.”

Over the course of 2021, the CC&J team focused on engaging in community conversations and networking, building a data analysis and research infrastructure, deploying a survey to collect resident input, analyzing available first responder data, and designing outreach program policies and procedures. The CC&J network now comprises first responders, school resources, neighboring municipalities, community organizations, mental wellness and education organizations, and academic institutions with social justice initiatives.

The CC&J outreach team officially began receiving referrals on Oct. 18, 2021. To help first responders to make referrals and better serve the community, the outreach team provides mental health awareness training to the South Orange Police Department and the South Orange Rescue Squad. Referral followup includes supportive counseling and case management services for those impacted by issues such as mental health crisis, racial trauma, substance use, domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness and more. The CC&J outreach team also has scheduled office hours at police headquarters where team members are able to speak with officers about mental health concerns and collaborate on the referral program.

“Our outreach program is a key priority for 2022,” Coallier said. “Right now, law enforcement professionals and emergency medical technicians are referring those that might benefit from social work service to our outreach team. We’d like to build this initial crisis response into on-the-scene support as we gain more experience and strengthen our funding sources.”

CC&J educational programming covers a broad mental health and wellness spectrum, ranging from anxiety and depression awareness to addressing racial trauma and bias. Initiatives have included a wellness series offering youth anxiety management, suicide prevention and other relevant mental health topics, along with several collaborations with Seton Hall University, including an eight-week “Social Justice Activation” collaboration led by SHU community practitioner in residence Jamila T. Davis and professor Juan Rios, who guided participants through a social services development curriculum and awarded two teams with seed money to implement community-based services. Other Seton Hall collaborations included the “Peace and Community Justice” speaker series featuring civil rights icon Bernard LaFayette Jr. in conversation with community youth activists and an immersive virtual reality platform through which a participant can embody an avatar encountering racism.

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

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