NEWTON, NJ- A crowd gathered  on Friday at the Romano Conference Center, on the grounds of Newton Medical Center.  They were there to be a part of the launch of Altitude: A Journey to Youth Empowerment.  Representatives  from Newton Medical Center, The Center for Prevention and Counseling, Pass It Along and United Way were all in the room .  These community groups have partnered with Sparta Middle School, Green Hills Elementary School, Halsted Street Middle School, Long Pond School and Sussex County Charter School for Technology.  Sparta Middle School Principal Doug Layman, along with the other school representatives,  was on hand for the introduction of this program aimed at empowering eighth graders, in an effort to curb substance abuse and other challenges facing our youth.    

Developed from a state-wide community needs assessment done by Atlantic Health Systems, this initiative will target pre-teen and young teenage students.  By tapping the experience, knowledge, structure  and resources of the consortium of community organizations and schools, Altitude will be working with students to provide opportunities for community service, to develop life skills, mentoring and intervention. 

In his opening remarks, James Furgeson, Director of Community and Donor Relations, explained that the most glaring statistic to come from the needs assessment was that Sussex county was ranked second in the state for substance abuse.   He was pleased to be able to have the leadership of existing community organizations all come to the table with one focus.  He said it was a requirement to "check your egos at the door."  He went on to explain that was never an issue due to the passion and commitment of the people gathered together to work on this project. 

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Altitude is a program  comprised of many unique, fully formed elements that will be mixed and matched to meet individual needs.  It will be cognoscente of the school calendar, starting  with a workshop at the beginning of the year called Discovering Your Passion and Purpose.  There students will take part in three days of activities to foster an understanding of their individual interests.  It will build on existing activities such as Middle School Summit, an annual event that draws a thousand middle school students.  Altitude will also be taking advantage of opportunities throughout the school year to offer clubs  with service based activities both within and outside of the schools, informational session, mentoring  and  Challenge Days.  There will even be an end of the year Rally.

This year, with the program launching mid-year, the calendar will be compressed but the expectation is to offer as many of the elements of Altitude as possible, building a foundation for next year.  There is also the expectation that those who go through the program as eight graders will become mentors for students in the years to come.

 Just as this program was born from an extensive survey, all of the elements will continue to be monitored and evaluated for effectiveness. 

Bob  McCracken, member of the Newton Medical Center Advisory Board and Atlantic Health System Board of Trustee echoed the sentiments of Furgeson saying when he heard of the statistics regarding substance abuse in Sussex county, especially among the youth, he knew he had to get involved.  Mc Cracken, like many others in the room, is also a parent and shares the passion to work to help the youth in Sussex county be able to have the tools they need to lead healthy lives.

Layman said, “All five schools that are participating are genuinely excited about the Altitude program and its potential to influence our students.  We are very fortunate to be a part of this unique endeavor that involves so many key stakeholders in the county- all working with a common purpose.”

At Sparta Middle School Layman explained that the "Discovering your Passion and Purpose" workshops will take place during the eight grade physical education classes next week.  These workshops will be led by volunteers from Pass It Along.

The Altitude  Steering committee is comprised of:

  • Tom Senker and Furgeson from Atlantic Health Systems. ,
  • Tom Askin-Altitude Program Manager,
  • Barbara Adolphe-Executive Director of Center for Prevention and Counseling,
  • Mary Emilius-Chief Professional Officer, United Way of Northern NJ,
  • Diane Taylor-CEO Pass It Along,
  • Tom Sutherland- CEO Sutherland Packaging,
  • Tim Jackson-Urban Financial of America,
  • Dr Alexandra Miller -Community Psychologist,
  • Chris Kirk-Director of Planning and Systems Development AHS,
  • Sharon Johnson-Harkim-Coordinator, Strategic Planning AHS.