JF&CS Launches ‘Be Well Atlanta’ Initiative

JF&CS Launches ‘Be Well Atlanta’ Initiative

$500,000 matching grant from The Zalik Foundation will support teen mental health and wellness initiative.

Jori Mendel, Atlanta Jewish Foundation chief foundation officer
Jori Mendel, Atlanta Jewish Foundation chief foundation officer

Jewish Family and Career Services has received a $500,000 matching grant from The Zalik Foundation to help address growing mental health needs for teens and young adults in the Jewish community.

“The mental health crisis affects children and families across our community; no one is immune to it. We are proud to help JF&CS launch ‘Be Well Atlanta,’ through which Jewish organizations in Atlanta will increase their coordination of services, provide evidence-based training to front-line educators and professionals working with youth, and offer new ways to support youth and teens’ mental health and wellbeing. We invite other philanthropists concerned about this critical issue to join the effort,” said Helen Zalik, founder and president of The Zalik Foundation.

The national Be Well initiative, which the grant will fund, was developed through a collaboration between the Network of Jewish Human Services Agencies and the Jewish Federation of North America. The funds were secured through the Atlanta Jewish Funder Collaborative, led by the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, an organization that offers strategic philanthropic advising through a Jewish lens for both Jewish and secular causes.

A roadmap was created to develop this program in select cities, and the Horwitz-Zusman Child & Family Center of JF&CS was selected to lead the initiative in Atlanta. Funds raised will be used to support Jewish youth and young adults, ages 12 through 26, facing mental health challenges, as well as those who care for them.

Helen and Daniel Zalik, co-founders of The Zalik Foundation

Two professionals will be hired by JF&CS, and funds will also go toward connecting teens and parents to resources available at JF&CS, supporting cross-community partnerships and decreasing barriers to care.

“We are grateful to The Zalik Foundation for this generous and impactful grant and the Atlanta Jewish Foundation for focusing on this critical need that will help address the alarming wave of mental health challenges in young people and those who care for them in the Atlanta region,” said Terri Bonoff, CEO of JF&CS.

“Our youth are our future, and it is imperative that we do all we can to support the mental health and wellbeing of children, teens and families.” said Bonoff.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in March 2022 that a mental health crisis was accelerating among adolescents, with more than four in 10 saying they feel “persistently sad or hopeless” and one in five saying they had contemplated suicide. A more recent report in February 2023 shared that three in five teen girls were “persistently sad or hopeless,” and one in four said they had contemplated suicide. The rates of sadness and hopelessness are the highest in a decade, reflecting an escalating trend made worse by the isolation and stress of the pandemic. This study reflected previous reports on escalating teen mental health challenges from doctors, therapists, and other mental health professionals.

Atlanta Jewish Foundation’s chief foundation officer Jori Mendel said these statistics, as well as a local field scan funded by the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, underscored the need for additional mental health resources targeted to this age group in Atlanta. In response to the pandemic, the Atlanta Jewish Foundation launched the Atlanta Jewish Funder Collaborative, which identified mental health as a key priority.

Terri Bonoff, CEO of Jewish Family & Career Services

“We conducted dozens of interviews and focus groups to understand the landscape and mental health needs for children and youth in the Atlanta Jewish community, as well as gaps to address those needs,” said Mendel. “This donor-driven research was supported by a multigenerational group of funders to identify ways to help advance the great work in improving mental health programs and services by metro Atlanta community organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish. This is a growing problem that will continue to need support for many years,” said Mendel.

This grant builds on the extensive array of mental health programs and services currently available at the Frances Bunzl Clinical Services of JF&CS. In 2022, JF&CS launched the Horwitz-Zusman Child & Family Center and added 15 dedicated therapists and consultants, including a parent coach, an executive functioning coach, play therapists, and a leading Atlanta child neurologist.

For more information on how to support the Be Well initiative, please contact Atlanta Jewish Foundation CFO Jori Mendel, at jmendel@jewishatlanta.org.

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