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Students at Washington Street show off their mental health merch.



YMCA, Farro’s Tees, Hovnanian Foundation Support Effort

June 14, 2021-- Earlier this year, Toms River Regional Schools revealed its #TRCares campaign to support mental health. The #TRCares website provides multiple, critical, and local resources for students, including a Youth Counseling Program (YCP) being funded by the H. Hovnanian Foundation and with in-person and virtual support from the YMCA of Greater Monmouth County.

Just as important as the services themselves is the effort to spread the word; after all, what good are these resources if no one knows about them? Sometimes, you need to get the message right into people’s hands.

That’s the idea behind the #TRCares mental health bags, which TRRS distributed last week to district elementary schools. Inside each bag is a branded bracelet, magnet, and face mask, as well as a flyer for the YCP.

“The most important message we can be sharing with our students regarding mental health is that we hear you, we’re here for you, and we have resources for you,” said Assistant Superintendent Cara DiMeo. “It may sound like a small thing-- a magnet, or a bracelet-- but if it means one person seeing that #TRCares hashtag and asking, ‘What’s that?’ then these bags are definitely serving their purpose.”

The bagged merchandise was created by Toms River-based Farro’s Tees, and the initiative was funded by the H. Hovnanian Foundation as well as alternate federal funding earmarked for mental health. The Youth Counseling Program, in its second year of a three-year Hovnanian-funded grant cycle, serves students of all ages throughout the district with both in-person and virtual support services, and features a full roster of YMCA-approved and licensed clinicians.

“Knowing where to turn to and who you can trust can be very confusing to someone struggling with mental health," said Intermediate South School Psychologist Kevin Huff. "By getting that information out there and normalizing access, we have a better chance of getting those who need help to reach out and accept the support they need.”

"We hear you, we’re here for you, and we have resources for you.” -Assistant Superintendent Cara DiMeo

While district leaders have worked extensively to make mental and social-emotional health a top priority, this effort has been driven largely by students. In March, the #TRuthsofTR project was launched, through which high school students-- and their teachers-- share their personal stories of struggle, loss, triumph, and everyday life. More recently, high school seniors Molly Herr, Jordyn Mizrachi, and Kelle Anwander partnered with Toms River Communities That Care’s (CTC) Clair Janal to launch a mental health podcast.

Hosted on Instagram at @trrs_mentalhealth, “TR Teens Talk” discusses topics affecting youth right now, from COVID-19 to mental burnout.

“Through ‘TR Teens Talk’, we hope to unite our youth in Toms River, and create a connection providing support to help others in our community thrive,” said Janal.

Resources, counseling, the sharing of personal stories, and even merchandise all serve to raise awareness for, and eliminate the stigma of mental health. As summer break nears and the 2021-2022 school year is on the horizon, it’s a safe bet that efforts to foster the mental health of all students and staff will only increase. And that’s a very good thing.