Governor Murphy’s Proposed FY 2021 Budget to Cut Funding for The Bridge, Inc.’s Imani Center
Governor 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 (SBYSPs), effective September 30, 2020. This budget cut would also mean the loss of matching federal funds to support these critical behavioral health and other services.
The SBYSP programs, which have been operating successfully since 1988, are currently providing services to at-risk children in over 90 schools throughout New Jersey; these services include mental health counseling, employment counseling, substance abuse prevention, suicide prevention, pregnancy prevention, and sexual assault prevention.
This includes the Imani Center, a social services program of The Bridge, Inc., which is situated on the grounds of Irvington High School. The Imani Center serves almost exclusively at-risk, minority children and adolescents working to escape the conditions of their circumstance. Since 1988, the Imani Center has served over 1,200 Irvington children, adolescents and families per year.
The Imani Center is a blue trailer on the grounds of Irvington High School, where students drop in for mental health and substance use counseling, college preparation, ESL instruction for those who speak Spanish and Creole, pregnancy counseling, job skills development and we also have an after school program, a program for children who are suspended, and a summer camp. The current state plan is to divert funds toward case management services, but they are not a presence in the schools that is always there for the kids to stop in. They do not and cannot do what we do.
When Melissa, an Irvington High School graduate, first immigrated to the United States, she was struggling to meet her academic goals. Looking for assistance, she turned to the Imani Center. Melissa states, “Because of The Bridge, I was able to graduate high school and register to attend college and I still come to there for help and guidance.”
Fellow Irvington High School alumna, Nifellie, recounts her multifaceted experience with the Imani Center, saying, “I was exposed to a plethora of various activities and opportunities that developed my maturity, creativity, and emotional health.” Now serving in the US Army and training to be an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operator, Nifellie tried to imagine her life without the Imani Center, stating, “My life would be completely different. I would still be the shy, insecure, and lost girl I was in high school.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and families of the Irvington School District have experienced immense loss, which only compounds upon preexisting personal, social, and familial struggles. Louis Schwarcz, Chief Executive Officer of The Bridge, Inc., adds to this point, stating, “Children in low-income urban areas have been disproportionately impacted by COVID and its aftermath. Losing the beloved Imani Center would be yet another significant loss, which we do not want the students to bear.”
The Department of Children and Families’ (DCF’s) own report, from September 2018, highlights the SBYSPs’ excellent outcomes and provides demographics on those served. The services provided by the Children’s System of Care, to where these funds are being diverted, simply cannot replace the services of the Imani Center.
In an effort to have their voices heard, Irvington High School students banded together to make a short video about what the Imani Center means to them. The video has been attached to this email in a separate file. Please take a moment to listen to their powerful words.
In a written statement, Irvington High School student Kelissa attests to the unique services provided by SBYSPs: “They give us the strength that nobody else could. They believe anything is possible and [they] always keep us motivated no matter how much we want to give up.”
Alongside Kelissa, superintendents, principals, local elected officials and community leaders across the state are outraged about this proposed cut, as are the students and families who rely on their services. This petition, posted on August 27, 2020, has over 32,000 signatures at the time of writing this letter.
Today, we are asking for your help to advocate for full funding to be restored to the Office of School-Linked Services programs in the Legislature’s budget bills. If we all make our voices heard, the state legislature can restore SBYSP funding.
Here is how you can help:
- Sign and share the following Change.org petition, which was created on August 26th by a Counselor at Brick Memorial High School: https://www.change.org/p/governor-phil-murphy-and-senator-stephen-m-sweeney-save-school-based-counseling-youth-services-programs-in-new-jersey?signed=true
- Call/email/write your State Legislators, the Governor’s Office, Senate and Assembly Budget Committee members, and Legislative Leadership. You can use the following link to find your local legislators’ contact information: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp
- For more information about The Bridge, Inc.’s Imani Center, go to: thebridgenj.org
Irvington High School student, Martiale, states, “[The Imani Center is] a place where you are loved… A place where the people never give up on us and, because they fought for us, we will fight for them to stay open and we will fight to the end.”
Please do not abandon the children of Irvington, who are already disproportionately harmed during this devastating time.