The uncertainty of how long the COVID-19 pandemic might drag on, the "new normal" it has foisted upon many aspects of daily life, fear of infection from the virus, and loss of loved ones to it are common experiences and emotions for New Jerseyans by now, and that includes students, faculty, and staff at the 18 community colleges across the Garden State.

To deal directly with their heightened mental health concerns and set students on a brighter path toward a four-year degree or a lasting career, the New Jersey Council of County Colleges' Center for Student Success has launched "The Every Mind Project: Addressing the Mental Health Needs of New Jersey's Community College Students."

Center for Student Success executive director Jacob Farbman said the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, the state Department of Health, and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education have put their backing behind the effort, funded by the Community Foundation of New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and a grant awarded to NJDOH through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

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"It is an overwhelming need, and we are delighted that so many partners have stepped up to the table to work with us on this," Farbman said. "This is about addressing a barrier that our students face that may prevent them from getting on, staying on, and completing their paths to their credentials and degrees, which ultimately will lead to economic mobility for our students."

In just three months, Farbman said, more than 500 faculty and staff statewide have been trained, in professional development sessions, to identify and learn how to attempt to alleviate the various signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis.

'These relationships last lifetimes'

These personnel, along with student leaders on campus, are the "frontliners" of community colleges as Farbman put it, and the goal for many is to be able to eventually "train the trainer," as the program looks to build long-term impact.

For the everyday student, might that mean having a designated mentor who can be available to provide guidance even after that student has moved on from this particular phase of their education?

"These relationships last lifetimes, and this is just another component to that," Farbman said. "So the answer to your question simply is: yes, yes, and more yes."

Resource materials available at staffers' fingertips, as well as certain types of campus events, are also planned parts of The Every Mind Project.

'A significant, significant basic needs issue'

State statistics compiled by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, and cited by the Center for Student Success, show two-thirds (66%) of community college students are concerned about their mental health specifically because of the ongoing pandemic, and even as it has waned, 70% are feeling more stress and anxiety than a year ago.

Farbman feels that if some of those fears can be relieved, higher standards of performance can be set by all.

"This is a significant, significant basic needs issue that, compounded as it has become because of the pandemic, is a student success, academic success issue," he said.

For more information, visit njccc.org, njstudentsuccess.org, or mhanj.org.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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NJ county fairs make a comeback: Check out the schedule for 2022

UPDATED 4/10: A current list of county fairs happening across the Garden State for 2022. From rides, food, animals, and hot air balloons, each county fair has something unique to offer.

(Fairs are listed in geographical order from South NJ to North NJ)

These are the best hiking spots in New Jersey

A trip to New Jersey doesn't have to be all about the beach. Our state has some incredible trails, waterfalls, and lakes to enjoy.

From the Pine Barrens to the Appalachian Trail to the hidden gems of New Jersey, you have plenty of options for a great hike. Hiking is such a great way to spend time outdoors and enjoy nature, plus it's a great workout.

Before you go out on the trails and explore some of our listeners' suggestions, I have some tips on hiking etiquette from the American Hiking Society.

If you are going downhill and run into an uphill hiker, step to the side and give the uphill hiker space. A hiker going uphill has the right of way unless they stop to catch their breath.

Always stay on the trail, you may see side paths, unless they are marked as an official trail, steer clear of them. By going off-trail you may cause damage to the ecosystems around the trail, the plants, and wildlife that live there.

You also do not want to disturb the wildlife you encounter, just keep your distance from the wildlife and continue hiking.

Bicyclists should yield to hikers and horses. Hikers should also yield to horses, but I’m not sure how many horses you will encounter on the trails in New Jersey.
If you are thinking of bringing your dog on your hike, they should be leashed, and make sure to clean up all pet waste.

Lastly, be mindful of the weather, if the trail is too muddy, it's probably best to save your hike for another day.

I asked our listeners for their suggestions of the best hiking spots in New Jersey, check out their suggestions:

School aid for all New Jersey districts for 2022-23

The state Department of Education announced district-level school aid figures for the 2022-23 school year on Thursday, March 10, 2022. They're listed below, alphabetically by county. For additional details from the NJDOE, including specific categories of aid, click here.