The Cocco family of Florham Park found a great partner in the Madison Area YMCA’s Project Community Pride counseling service at a time when they needed the support that the program was able to provide.
As a guest speaker at the Y’s summertime annual Celebration of Impact barbecue, Beth Cocco shared her family’s experience with the program. “Our first introduction was when our now 17-year-old son was referred to Project Community Pride by the Ridgedale Middle School Resource Officer,” said Beth. “The officer knew my son was struggling with some challenges in school and at home, and he thought the program might be helpful for him.”
Project Community Pride of the Madison Area YMCA is a counseling program for children, teens and their families available to those who live in the Madison Area YMCA’s service area. The program, which exemplifies the Y’s commitment to youth development, was made possible through the collaboration of community leaders and a partnership with the municipalities and School Districts of the Chathams, Florham Park and Madison.
Although their son Michael, then 13 years old, had no interest in the program, Beth said, “We eventually convinced Mikey that it couldn’t hurt and he gave it a try. So begrudgingly he began to see Lisa and their mutual love of the New York Yankees and Seton Hall basketball sealed the deal. We were able to see Michael grow and work on himself and understand that he wasn’t a bad person, he just had some things to work on.”
Lisa Sprague, director of Project Community Pride, not only worked with Mikey, she worked with his younger sister Molly as well as Beth and her husband Michael during family sessions.
“The family sessions were not always the most pleasant experience, and someone always ended up in tears – usually me,” said Beth, noting that the family made considerable progress. “Our family grew stronger because of it.”
A baseball player who is starting his junior year at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, Mikey has come a long way, according to his mother. She added that he still sees Lisa occasionally.
During an interview following the barbecue, Beth said that she shared her family’s story to let others who might be struggling with their teens and preteens know that they can get through difficult times with the right help. “Project Community Pride was a great resource that provided excellent support. When you have a child that struggles with mental health issues it does not only affect that one person – it affects the entire family,” Beth said, pointing out that Mikey’s younger sister Molly was left to deal with the aftermath of her brothers’ behaviors.
“Molly was struggling with what she thought was unfairness—that everyone treated Mikey differently and he never got in trouble for anything, which wasn’t true, but it was what she felt as seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old younger sister,” said Beth, adding that Molly needed a place to be able to vent her frustration.
Referred to Project Community Pride by the Ridgedale Middle School psychologist, she worked with Project Community for three years. It was a transformative experience for Molly, a softball player who is starting her freshman year at Hanover Park High School.
“Molly is a more confident, self-assured and emotionally mature person knowing that what she was feeling wasn’t unreasonable and that she was allowed to have a voice and a sounding board to work things through,” said Beth, adding that their sibling relationship grew because of Lisa’s work with them separately and together.
“My family has been very lucky to be able to take advantage of such an incredible resource and I can honestly say that it has made a huge impact on our children and our family and I will be forever grateful,” said Beth.