The pandemic has impacted our local youth in unusual ways. From curtailing all sports and events to learning online for school, teens are facing extraordinary changes and mourning the loss of their independence and once-in-a-lifetime rites of passage. Depression and anxiety are spiking, especially in our most vulnerable youth. Fortunately, the youth in Somerset County have a great resource that is still serving the community.
Middle Earth, a nonprofit guiding youth towards a responsible adulthood, has been serving teens for almost 50 years. Recognizing that their mission to support youth is more critical than ever, the nonprofit has simply altered their strategy to achieve it online. All of Middle Earth’s programs are operating remotely.
As New Jersey shelters in place, the staff at Middle Earth have been busier than ever. Here are ways they are still achieving their mission from a safe distance:
- Employment readiness programs are conducting mock interviews with students online. Staff is preparing youth who are working towards employment certifications or credentials through online meetings or phone calls.
- Youth are being offered online groups to connect with peers and staff and learn a variety of life skills.
- Students in Middle Earth’s afterschool programs meet virtually for fun activities in their clubs. They have imagined new theme parks, learned skills from Disney animators, made play-doh, and much more.
- The Youth College Readiness Program is conducting all of their workshops online, covering topics such as applying for financial aid, SAT preparation, and managing stress. They are arranging virtual college tours. The staff is also working with high school seniors in reaching out to admissions departments, completing scholarship applications, and making decisions about where they would like to attend this Fall.
- Staff is personally calling every family who has a student in one of their mentoring programs to stay connected and offer care over the phone.
- Middle Earth created service projects for youth who need volunteer hours that can be done at home.
- Staff is touching base with every youth in their programs to determine if they or their families have any needs that we can fulfill. We are also talking to them about finding healthy ways to cope.
One particular student in Middle Earth’s employment readiness program is staying connected to her mentor with regular check-ins via phone calls, text messages, and Zoom meetings. Just like all of us, she is having difficulties adapting to the new normal. Her mentor encourages her to ensure that her well-being is still one of her priorities. When asked how she feels after these check-ins with her mentor, she said, "It is a great feeling to be able to talk to someone who genuinely wants to be there regularly during this pandemic."
Any teen who lives in Somerset County and needs help during the pandemic or wants to connect for positive activities online is invited to reach out to Middle Earth. Call 908-725-7223, extension 19 or 21, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Middle Earth plans to continue connecting with youth, caring for their well-being, and providing skills and hope for a bright future. You can learn more about their efforts, or support Middle Earth’s online programming by making a donation, on their website, MiddleEarthNJ.org.