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Program Spotlight: AmeriCorps Public Health

Program Spotlight: AmeriCorps Public Health

April 4, 2024

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AmeriCorps was NJCDC’s very first program when we were founded in 1994, and over the past 30 years, several hundred young people have dedicated a year to serving the people of Paterson. We’ve had a few different AmeriCorps programs over the years, but our primary program is the Paterson Community Schools Corps, or PCSC. PCSC members spend a year in schools and community youth centers throughout Paterson, working directly with students to eliminate all barriers to academic achievement. While the academic support PCSC members provide is crucial to helping Paterson youth succeed, we knew there were additional issues creating barriers for our youth. In 2023, we took a step towards addressing a major issue—mental health care and access—through a new AmeriCorps program.

The Paterson Public Health Corps (PPHC) launched in September 2023 with the goal of addressing the mental health needs of Paterson students and families. There are eight full-time AmeriCorps members, who work in five schools throughout Paterson. Using an evidence-based approach, these members are leading monthly seminars to educate students and community members about mental health issues, and collaborating with the New Jersey Statewide Student Support Services (NJ4S) Passaic County Hub to ensure clinicians are available in schools. They are also creating new resources in NJCDC’s Full Service Community Schools, including mental health resource centers to educate students and families on mental health issues and support services they can access, and “peace rooms”, which are calming and safe spaces for kids to process difficult emotions or situations with the guidance of a mental health specialist.

Public Health AmeriCorps members collaborate closely with school administration and mental health service providers. They use the school building as a hub to connect at-risk students to the services they need. In addition to connecting students to school-based mental health services, they also refer students to other providers in the community. The program is also working to increase awareness of mental health conditions and to decrease the stigma of seeking help. Students are taught about different mental health conditions, and how to help their peers and community members overcome them. This knowledge empowers students to support their friends and families who are experiencing mental health challenges.

Since September, the PPHC has reached more than 100 students and families through one-on-one counseling and support services. PPHC members have also hosted more than 50 community workshops, which teach both kids and adults about mental health. They’ll continue offering these services throughout the school year. In April, the PPHC will be collaborating with the Rutgers University School of Public Health on a community event, where members will share the work they’re doing to help Paterson youth and families succeed.


The PPHC has already helped so many Paterson youth, and its members strive to continue providing vital resources and services to the students and families they serve. Maryam Ali, the PPHC program director, says, “I believe the PPHC will be an essential tool for students and parents to utilize to help themselves and support their communities.”

“In just a few months, we have started to foster a more supportive and understanding school environment, encouraging students to prioritize their mental health and seek support when needed,” said one PPHC member. “My role as a Mental Health Mentor has provided immediate support to students and laid the groundwork for a more aware, empathetic, and proactive school community regarding mental health.”


Bob Guarasci, NJCDC’s CEO, lauded the work of this new AmeriCorps program at NJCDC.  “For thirty years we have utilized AmeriCorps members to support Paterson’s youngest residents, and this new program builds upon everything we started in 1994.”

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