Central Jersey Alumnae Hosts Town Hall Exploring Challenges of Coronavirus Crisis on Youth


Submitted by Raquel Y. Horn

On Oct. 20, 2020, the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. hosted a program titled “You Talk, We’ll Listen: A Virtual Town Hall Exploring the Challenges and Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19 on Our Youth.” This event was a collaboration between the Program Planning, Membership Services, Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy and the Physical and Mental Health committees. Opening remarks were offered by Patricia Williamson, 2nd Vice President and Chair of the Program Planning Committee, and a welcome was given by Chapter President Karen Wade Culp. The event was moderated by CJA Member Denise Cliatt who introduced each of the panelists: Joi Fisher-Griffin, an author, adoption advocate, and a school administrator; Dr. C. Alex Gray, principal of Martin Luther King Intermediate School located in Piscataway, New Jersey; Natasha Hemmings, CEO for the Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey; and Lisa Perry, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of Life Perspectives Counseling Services.

Panelists were asked by Cliatt to identify the top two to three mental health needs they have observed in students since COVID-19. Gray stated that in addition to ADHD, he noticed anxiety disorders have been exacerbated. Fisher-Griffin added depression, oppositional defiance disorder, and expressed concern for children on the autism spectrum. Hemmings spoke from a personal perspective as the mom of teenagers. She stated that while her children did not have diagnosed disabilities, she noticed that with little socialization, they began to show signs of anxiety and depression in the home. She attempted to combat this by talking with them, engaging in physical activity, and having a no-device rule at the dinner table. Perry also identified depression and anxiety as a top mental health need. Interestingly, she spoke about students with social anxiety who were previously stressed in school because it was overwhelming for them to navigate. They initially thrived in the virtual environment. However they are now feeling the pressure of isolation and looking forward to returning to school because they need the social connection.

Cliatt asked what signs parents should look for during this period to ensure their children are mentally well. Gray stated that parents can sometimes be in denial about their children’s behavior, but they should be open to seeing them in comparison to others in various settings. Parents should notice if they are hyperactive, crying frequently, worrying, exhibiting excessive defiance/disobedience, and the like. Perry added that parents should also consider if the behaviors observed are occurring in more than one setting. This can be an indication that the behavior is pervasive and prevalent. Parents should also look for changes in behavior such as anger for no reason, fighting, excessive sleeping, differences in hygiene or appetite, shifts in grades, etc.

The conversation ultimately shifted to recommendations for parents to address the mental health needs of their children with specific regard to remote instruction. The panelists agreed that healthy habits were a necessity such as healthy ways to socialize, getting exercise and fresh air on a daily basis and eating healthy. They also should have consistency in routines at home. In addition, parents should clarify COVID by explaining what it is, what it looks like in the world and what safety precautions will look like in school. Moreover, children should be encouraged to engage in self-care such as journaling, meditation, deep breathing, and time with family. Hemmings summed it up with the Girl Scout motto: “Be prepared.”

Attendees were then sent to three previously selected breakout rooms for in-depth discussion based on areas of interest. Each room was outfitted with a facilitator and a scribe, members of CJA, who ultimately reported to the larger group before the end of the session. The question in each group was: How are youth doing through this pandemic?

The first was the education breakout room. The facilitator was Lavette Bobbitt and Michelle Fielder served as scribe. Attendees expressed fear of their children losing social skills, and also a fear of sickness upon returning to school. They also discussed “Zoom fatigue,” isolation, and the fact that disabled students are at a disadvantage because they can’t be with their age/grade level peers. Some expressed concern about how children will behave when they return to school due to limited opportunities to interact socially with others. Creative ways to engage socially and virtually were suggested.

Service providers were in the second breakout room facilitated by Michelle Jacobs and scribed by Florence Sheppard. They continued to explore issues with sleeping, anxiety, depression, lack of contact, lack of routine and described children as “Zoomed out.” The attendees in this session suggested that students will need tutoring, outreach groups, and perhaps a daily challenge to encourage physical activity.

The final breakout room included those in the social/emotional/mental health field. It was facilitated by Torra Waynick and scribed by Deadra Sanders. They reiterated that students are feeling isolated and are missing their counterparts, routines, and normal activities. This crisis has been very restrictive on youth who are accustomed to socializing. The attendees in this room suggested strategies like yoga, meditation, and herbal therapy. The event was closed by 1st Vice President Michelle Fielder who thanked all panelists and attendees. A Resource Guide was provided to all with community resources pertaining to education, social, emotional, and mental health in the areas serviced by the Central Jersey Alumnae Deltas.


Submitted by Raquel Y. Horn On Oct. 20, 2020, the Central Jersey Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. hosted a program titled “You Talk, We’ll Listen: A Virtual Town Hall Exploring the Challenges and Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19 on Our Youth.” This event was a collaboration between the Program Planning, Membership Services, …

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