Feature Story

Stories of Hope and Surprising Success in the Middle of a Crisis

Middle Earth has evolved in many ways over the past five decades and has a reputation for constantly adapting to the needs of Somerset County youth. It should, perhaps then, come as no surprise that when everyone was reeling during the COVID-19 shutdown, Middle Earth converted all of their youth programming to online formats in just a couple of days.

While the pandemic has been difficult for everyone, there have been a lot of successes and reasons for hope here at Middle Earth. Here are just a few examples:

Vanessa participated in our Youth College Readiness Program and successfully applied to Montclair University and began attending there in Fall, 2019. Upon her high school graduation, Vanessa signed up for Middle Earth’s Visions Plus, a program designed for adolescents who need support for employment readiness and independent living. Soon after that, the pandemic hit. Vanessa’s life looked very different as colleges across the country closed down and moved to online classes. Just like most students, Vanessa had difficulties adapting to the new normalcy of her studies. Fortunately, our staff set up weekly Zoom meetings to ensure that her well-being is still one of her priorities. Vanessa said, “It is a great feeling to be able to talk to someone who genuinely wants to be there regularly during this pandemic.”

Middle Earth continues to prepare older teens for future employment. Staff has conducted mock interviews with students in online meetings, taught workplace skills, helped youth make progress towards employment certifications, and even connected students with job internships, some of which are online and some are in-person.

Volunteerism is an essential component of all of our programs. Staff found new ways for youth to safely serve others. The youth made cards for healthcare workers and the elderly, cleaned up local parks, refreshed outdoor murals, and created a free food pantry for Mariposa Park in Bound Brook.

For our afterschool programs, our staff is choosing activities that are very interactive so that children get moving and talking to one another. Over the summer and headed into the new school year, staff distributed bins of supplies to all of their students, and then connected through online meetings to cook recipes or to create artwork and unique crafts. They participated in online escape rooms and other interactive activities. In addition, we are able to connect our youth online with teachers in dance, yoga, music, soccer, and fitness!

We used online platforms to help youth prepare for college. In the Spring, Jack Teters said, “I was inspired by the fact that many of our seniors remained just as committed to attending college in the fall, and I assisted them with reaching out to admissions departments, completing scholarship applications, and making decisions about where they would like to attend.” Incoming seniors for this school year met online over the summer to learn about financial aid, make goals for their last year of high school, discuss college applications, and write college entrance essays. In the Fall, they are offering a financial aid workshop for parents, two virtual campus tours for students, and a career workshop with professionals from several different industries.

“I’m most proud of the way the staff has supported our youth during this pandemic. So many students are wrestling with anxiety and depression right now. When the shutdown happened, our staff called every client individually to talk. We are continuing to reach out to the most vulnerable youth in our communities to support their positive mental health.” – Maria Strada, Executive Director

This is the life change that YOU enable through your support of Middle Earth! Partnering with us to provide online programming during this difficult time will ensure our community’s next generation will continue to envision a bright future and learn how to thrive after the pandemic.