Newsletters | Project Heal   

Newsletters | Project Heal

March 2024 Newsletter - Latest News, Updates, & Stories

Project HEAL: Reflections on Three Years of Service

During the month of March, Project HEAL is proudly celebrating its third anniversary! In that time, Project HEAL has served over 600 individuals impacted by violence, providing close to 3,000 trauma-informed counseling and crisis management sessions, 650 health screenings, and almost 3,000 instances of case management services. This provides a brief snapshot into the crucial work Project HEAL has accomplished in just three short years.

Since our last anniversary, Project HEAL has made several important strides to make a larger-scale impact on community violence as a whole. In partnership with Montclair State University, Project HEAL launched its Community Coordinate Response initiative, which aims to bring together community groups/providers and social services agencies, in hopes of reducing community violence. Project HEAL has also added key team members, growing their professional family to provide even more services to individuals in need, specifically through their community-violence intervention program, Elevate. In partnership with Jersey Shore University Medical Center’s Trauma Injury Prevention team, lead by Tracy Nerney, Project HEAL has rolled out a community-wide Stop the Bleed initiative, aimed at providing life-saving Stop the Bleed kits in key areas of the community where violent injury is most prevalent. One of the team’s highlights this year was an invitation to join Senator Cory Booker at his Community Violence Intervention Summit. As a result of these efforts, Project HEAL was awarded close to 1.5 million dollars to continue its hospital and community-based violence intervention initiatives throughout 2024.

"As you can see, we have been busy! This past year we have been able to get our work well outside of the hospital and office walls, with the hopes of providing a long-lasting impact on community safety," remarked Kristina Vander, Project HEAL’s newly appointed Clinical Program manager. Kristina also expressed immense gratitude for the remarkable partnerships the organization has built during the past three years, highlighting their significance in supporting Project HEAL's mission. “Most importantly, we are so grateful to our clients and the community. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for putting in the work. You are the reason we have the privilege of doing this work every day.”

"In this relatively short span of three years, it has become increasingly evident to me that hospitals possess the capacity to disrupt and ultimately break the cycles of violence," asserts Aakash Shah, M.D., medical director of Project HEAL. "The narratives we share about our clients, coupled with the compelling statistics showcased in this article, serve as poignant reminders of how Project HEAL is actively fulfilling this mission," he adds. "And yet, I firmly believe that what we've accomplished thus far is merely the tip of the iceberg."

Project HEAL extends their heartfelt appreciation to the individuals and collaborators throughout the department, hospital, and healthcare network, as well as within the broader community, whose support has been instrumental on our journey. Project HEAL holds immense admiration for our clients who, despite enduring profound trauma and adversity, persevere each day, serving as beacons of hope and light. Their resilience fuels our own commitment to our mission and we are so excited for what year four has to bring!

Where Are They Now: Randy

Randy was one of the first clients served when Project HEAL opened its doors in March 2021. The team received word about an altercation that took place at one of the local high schools which involved a student stabbed with a knife. As a result, Project HEAL was able to meet a very young, very injured Randy and his mother at the hospital bedside and get them linked with services post-discharge. However, his story started long before this encounter, and has evolved over time, leading him back to Project HEAL almost exactly three years later.

When Randy was repeatedly stabbed on the grounds of his school three years ago, it wasn't the first time he had encountered such violence, having been involved in numerous fights throughout his upbringing. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time he had been stabbed. However, this incident left him hospitalized, his life hanging in the balance. Reflecting on the harrowing experience, Randy recalls, "I was just thankful to be alive, seeing your own guts hanging out and stuff. I'm just happy I made it." Project HEAL linked Randy and his family to services, and Randy attempted to engage in therapy to try to address the emotional scars left by this traumatic event, but he just wasn’t ready at the time. Randy reflects back, “I came a few years ago when I was younger, but everything was still so fresh from the stabbing. I wasn't really ready to face my feelings. I stopped coming here, went on with life, but things got serious and I was just getting into some bad stuff.”

However, as circumstances would have it, three years later Randy was once again referred to Project HEAL after becoming entangled in legal trouble involving a weapon. He was given a second chance to make some changes in his life. Project HEAL was ready for him, but more importantly, Randy was ready.

This time around, Randy has fully embraced the program, recognizing the value of therapy in addressing his inner suffering. "I didn't realize at the moment the benefits of being in therapy, but now that I'm a little older I can look at it differently," he acknowledges, highlighting his newfound positive mindset about mental health.

Central to Randy's transformation has been his relationship with Kristen, his trauma-informed therapist at Project HEAL. "Right now, one of the best things I have going on is coming to talk to Kristen," he shares. "Counseling, and talking like I do now, even if I get to where I wanna be someday, I still feel like I'll come here and talk to Kristen," he reflects.

Through counseling and self-reflection, Randy has been given the space to have hope about his future. Despite his tumultuous past, he dreams of pursuing a career in business, with ambitions of venturing into real estate and online sales. "I want to make money. I want to be able to take care of my family. I want to be able to take care of the people that took care of me when I needed it. That's my goal," he declares with conviction.

Today, Randy stands as a testament to resilience and determination, his past struggles fueling his drive for a brighter future. "I'm not mad like I used to be. Everything that's happened in the past three years, I could get mad at it, but I'm just thankful that I'm here," he asserts, embodying a spirit of gratitude and perseverance.

As Randy continues his journey with Project HEAL, he serves as an inspiration to others facing similar challenges. Randy proves that even if you are not ready to accept help and support at the time, it is never too late to make a change. Project HEAL is beyond proud of Randy and the work he has put in and are so grateful for another opportunity to be a part of his healing journey.

Coordinated Community Response (CCR) Unites Stakeholders to Address Violence

In an effort to address violence within communities served by Project HEAL at a macro level, the Coordinated Community Response (CCR) initiative has emerged. This initiative aims to initiate a large-scale response, with significant efforts from key community stakeholders. Spearheaded by Project HEAL and in partnership with Montclair State University (MSU), CCR embodies a commitment to utilize data and evidence-informed strategies to make the necessary changes for a safer community.

The first CCR meeting of 2024, held February 20 at the Blackbird Community Commons in Asbury Park, marked a significant milestone in this collective endeavor. Bringing together stakeholders from over fifteen organizations across Monmouth County, the gathering opened the floor to have tough discussions, but more importantly to take tangible action against violence.

Data compiled by MSU served as a foundation for the discussions, shedding light on crime statistics, trends, and high-risk areas prevalent in various areas within Monmouth County. This analysis laid the groundwork for identifying potentially effective intervention strategies and community-wide initiatives.

During the meeting, stakeholders explored initiatives such as cross-training, the "Stop the Bleed" program, and the establishment of safe spaces as integral components of the response to community violence. The open-floor discussion allowed participants to share insights and articulate their organizational goals. This exchange of ideas provided valuable perspectives on the diverse approaches needed to address community violence thoughtfully and comprehensively.

Looking ahead, CCR aims to convene quarterly to sustain momentum and deepen partnerships with community organizations and governmental entities. By prioritizing collaboration and proactive strategies, CCR hopes to create safer, more resilient communities where violence is effectively addressed and mitigated.

Empowering Communities: How Stop the Bleed Initiatives Save Lives

In today's world, being prepared for emergencies is not just a recommendation, it's a necessity. In response to this need, the Stop the Bleed initiative has emerged as a way to empower individuals across the nation with the skills to intervene in severe bleeding situations and potentially save lives. This national campaign, championed by federal agencies, the American College of Surgeons, and the Committee on Trauma, has become a cornerstone of community preparedness efforts.

At Jersey Shore University Medical Center (JSUMC), the Stop the Bleed initiative has flourished under the dedicated leadership of Tracy Nerney, the Trauma Injury Prevention Coordinator. Understanding the vital significance of Stop the Bleed training, Nerney continued to lead the charge in integrating the program into the medical center. Moreover, she has extended the program's impact by enlisting team members and students as instructors, involving high school students in earning service hours through class assistance, and expanding community partnerships to further the reach of Jersey Shore's Stop The Bleed program.

"Tracy’s dedication and leadership in introducing the Stop the Bleed program at Jersey Shore University Medical Center certainly needs to be recognized." said Chris Kuhn, Project HEAL’s Content & Outreach coordinator. “Her commitment to community safety and proactive approach to injury prevention have made a significant impact in allowing this partnership to take form.”

However, like many institutions, securing funding for Stop the Bleed kits posed a significant challenge for JSUMC. Despite the clear benefits of these kits in emergency situations, financial constraints threatened to hinder their implementation. It was at this moment that a partnership between Project HEAL and the Trauma Injury Prevention propelled this initiative forward over the past several months.

Project HEAL, with its established network and commitment to community well-being, was a natural ally in the quest to make Stop the Bleed kits accessible. Through collaborative efforts and supplemental grant funding from Project HEAL, JSUMC was able to acquire fifty Stop the Bleed kits, a vital step in enhancing community preparedness.

"Stop the Bleed isn't just about providing kits—it's about equipping individuals with the knowledge and confidence to act swiftly in critical situations," commented Kuhn, "Through our partnership, we're empowering communities to become their own first responders when the situation calls for it."

The impact of this partnership extends far beyond the walls of the medical center. Most recently, a partnership between Project HEAL, The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, and JSUMC Trauma has formed, allowing all parties to effectively identify the needs of communities most affected by violence that could benefit from Stop the Bleed Kits. This partnership further strengthens Project HEAL and JSUMC Trauma’s connections and insights within Monmouth County, which have also helped the initiative identify areas with the greatest need for Stop the Bleed kits. Through outreach to local businesses, community organizations, and government entities, efforts are currently being made to strategically place these kits where they could make the most significant difference.

The importance of Stop the Bleed training cannot be overstated. Project HEAL has already helped distribute four kits into the community, with another seven to eight trainings being scheduled in the coming months, specifically in areas that require it most. By equipping community members with the knowledge and tools to control bleeding effectively, the initiative significantly increases the pool of immediate responders and accessible bleeding control equipment. In situations where professional help may be delayed, these trained individuals can be the difference between life and death. With the average time for a person to bleed out being five minutes or less, every action taken in those crucial moments matters.

Through collaborative efforts and a commitment to community empowerment, initiatives like Stop the Bleed are transforming the landscape of emergency response. By providing individuals with the skills and resources they need to act decisively in critical situations, lives are being saved, and communities are becoming stronger and more resilient. Together, we can ensure that no one is ever left helpless in the face of an emergency.

Meet the Staff: Tyquann Jones, Peer Specialist

Elevate’s newest team member Tyquann Jones, a dedicated Peer Specialist for the program focused on providing adolescents alternatives to violence, reflects on his journey from a childhood marked by adversity to his current mission of empowering the youth in his community.

Growing up in the storied yet challenging neighborhoods of Asbury Park, Tyquann's childhood was a blend of fond memories and harsh realities. Raised in the Asbury Park Village on Washington Avenue, and later Monroe Street, he experienced the full spectrum of life's trials and tribulations. Despite the turmoil that surrounded him, Tyquann found solace in the welcoming embrace of the Westside Community Center, where he was treated like family and provided with a safe haven after school.

Even amidst the warmth of the community, Tyquann encountered profound losses. "I wouldn't say my life in Asbury was bad, but I've seen a lot though," Tyquann recalls. "I've seen a lot of violence, close friends. My sister got killed in a drive-by shooting when I was younger. My brother got shot and was paralyzed from the waist down." Witnessing the devastating effects of crime and addiction within his own family deeply impacted Tyquann, shaping his resolve to make a positive difference in his community.

Despite the hardships, Tyquann's spirit remained resilient. Supported by his loving parents and driven by a passion for education, he excelled academically, particularly in mathematics. With dreams of pursuing college and playing football, Tyquann's aspirations were abruptly altered when a severe knee injury sidelined his athletic ambitions during high school.

Undeterred by setbacks, Tyquann channeled his energy into serving others. Throughout his twenties, he worked as an activities aide at an adult daycare center, where he discovered the fulfillment of helping those in need. "I've always wanted to help people," Tyquann reflects. "I think that's why I enjoyed working at the adult daycare so much."

Tyquann's unwavering commitment to his community led him to embrace the role of a Peer Specialist within the Elevate Program. Inspired by his desire to prevent future generations from succumbing to the cycle of violence and trauma, Tyquann strives to bridge the gap between disengaged youth and supportive resources.

"Being from the area, and seeing things they've seen, and being through the same stuff. I can connect with them on that," Tyquann notes. Drawing from his own experiences, he aims to break down barriers and inspire positive change. "I just want to come in and try to get to these kids before they turn to violence. Give them something to do, coach them up the best I can."

Recognizing the disconnect within his community, Tyquann emphasizes the importance of collaboration and creating safe spaces for the youth. "I wanna see us help a lot of kids through the Elevate program. Get stuff done in the community, give these kids something to do, somewhere to go. And just show them positive role models," he asserts.

As he continues his journey with Elevate, Tyquann remains steadfast in his dedication to transforming lives and fostering a brighter future for the community he holds dear. Project HEAL and Elevate are so happy to have Tyquann on their team to continue to do this amazing work.

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