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Sussex County Organizations, Schools Come Together to Launch Youth Empowerment Program

March 20, 2014

Newton, NJ – A new program, bringing together local organizations, community leaders and schools to empower eighth-graders from throughout Sussex County, launched this month. Altitude: A Journey to Youth Empowerment seeks to inspire students to move toward their highest and best selves.

The program was recently unveiled at a presentation at Newton Medical Center, part of Atlantic Health System, which is supporting the program and has assembled the community providers.“Our mission calls upon us to be part of our community beyond traditional medical care,” said Joe DiPaolo, president of Newton Medical Center and vice president of Atlantic Health System. “By promoting better overall choices at an age in which health care may not yet be a concern, we hope that we are taking a proactive first step in improving young people’s lives and well-being.”

By syncing with existing, highly-respected youth experts throughout the community, the program’s carefully-aligned elements will create safe places and appropriate interventions inside and outside of schools to help students develop life skills, believe in their own strengths and goodness and feel excited about using their time and talent in service to others. The program also enlists families in empowering students towards these ends.In addition to Newton Medical Center, the program includes the following partner organizations and schools:

  • The Center for Prevention and Counseling
  • Pass It Along
  • United Way of Northern New Jersey
  • Green Hills Elementary School
  • Halsted Street Middle School
  • Long Pond School
  • Sparta Middle School
  • Sussex County Charter School for Technology

The multi-modal program includes components both in the schools as well as outside them, within students’ communities, including:

  • a three-day interactive in-school workshop to build self-esteem and self-acceptance and promote compassion and altruism;
  • monthly in-school clubs;
  • youth-led community-based workshops;
  • school-based mentoring; “challenge day,” in-school retreats; and
  • several other activities in schools and communities.

“The plug-and-play nature of Altitude’s components allows the program to be configured to fill up a student’s entire calendar, meaning that no matter what time of year, students will be able to take part in some aspect of the program,” said Jim Furgeson, director of community and donor relations for the Newton Medical Center Foundation.

Altitude’s program manager Tom Askin noted that the professionals and organizations involved will be actively participating in the program.

“This program is for us and by us,” Askin said. “What makes this program different from others is that those who are involved will be there, sharing their talents and working directly with students.”The program was initiated by the Newton Medical Center Advisory Board, and developed based on the findings of the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), a 2012 survey that determined the health priorities of communities throughout northern and central New Jersey. In Sussex County, substance abuse was ranked highly among those priorities.

Bob McCracken, chairman of the Newton Medical Center Advisory Board and member of the Atlantic Health System Board of Trustees, said that the findings of the CHNA made it clear that a solution was needed to help encourage positive decisions in the region’s youth. Eighth grade became the focus of the program because research has shown it to be a “tipping point” in adolescent development.

“Through Altitude we can make a difference in this community,” McCracken said. “It is our greater purpose.”For more information and to learn how to participate in Altitude, please contact Jim Furgeson, at the Newton Medical Center Foundation at 973-579-8662.