Red Bank Regional awarded for mental health youth program


A school-based youth services program encourages students to evolve into the best versions of themselves.

The SOURCE, a service offered by Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, seeks to abolish the obstacles that may impede a student’s ability to earn an education by offering crucial assistance to adolescents as they navigate their teen years.

Last month, the program was honored by the Mental Health Association of Monmouth County as officials presented SOURCE clinicians with the Tony Dowling Child Advocacy Award.

Mental Health Association of Monmouth County Director Jessica Kostenblatt said in a statement, “The SOURCE staff are fearless in their support at the school and community level. … They work tirelessly to empower youth to be powerful self-advocates no matter what they are facing. Their work starts with clinical expertise and unwavering support through individual and group work with teens and their families towards wellness and stability. The SOURCE at RBR also maintains several vital programs, which have developed from needs presented in their school community.”  

The SOURCE is a hub for personalized security, according to SOURCE Supervisor Suzanne Keller. Now in its 18th year, the program centers on alleviating the stigma associated with enduring a mental illness.

The program also assists aiding the personal and academic endeavors that directly correlate with individual development, Keller said. 

Keller said the in-school service is more than well-received by the academic community, as well as its outreach toward the neighboring municipalities.

“Our principal, Risa Clay, she wrote a grant 18 years ago to the Department of Children and Families. She did that because, at the time, she was trying to help so many students. As one person, she couldn’t meet the needs of all of the students,” Keller said.

Keller said in order for a school-based program to become implemented, and inevitably effective, the service must meet a five-pronged criteria. Group and family counseling is the definitive component of the SOURCE, Keller said.

Academic support and employment readiness are also imperative aspects of the initiative, she said.

Keller said her staff consists of four full-time clinicians, on-site, ready for individual evaluations of students who they were told have been struggling with thoughts of self-harm, depression, have contemplated suicide or are struggling with an individual concern that is deterring them from reaching their full potential. 

Keller said the typical day can vary. Depending upon the happenings at a certain point in time, she said many of her students refer their friends who they believe are experiencing a personal conflict in their life and would benefit from speaking about their issues with a licensed professional.

“We are always on the phone with either children’s mobile response or DYFS [now Division of Child Protection and Permanency], or we could be sending a student out to Monmouth Medical Center because they have suicidal ideation,” Keller said.

Keller agreed suicidal tendencies are the most frequent reason students visit the SOURCE.

“These kids might write something concerning in a paper in history or English class. It all comes back to us,” Keller said.

The most recent case of the ideation of premature death occurred when an unnamed student was said to have researched “suicide information” on a computer inside of the academic building. Immediately, the information from the Google search engine was forward to SOURCE program officials, Keller said.

Although the protocol for action to be taken is entirely individualized, Keller said, all students are evaluated based on their specific health needs, as well as their history with the program.

“These kids should never have to suffer. That’s what we explain to them,” Keller said.

“We want to validate their worth … we can help them,” she continued.

Although the SOURCE upholds an exemplary reputation as a reputable mental healthcare facility, Keller said, a fraction of the school’s students are burdened by the negative stigma that is associated with acknowledging one is experiencing difficulties mentally. 

A mental illness is not different from a physical illness, Keller said, and must be treated in the same way a physical ailment must be remedied. 

The SOURCE is largely involved with “RBR Dreamers,” an association of Latin American students who are vocal in their efforts to stand up to the lengthy process they have said immigrants must endure in order to become a documented United States citizen.

Keller said 29 percent of the specialty school’s population are immigrants who are either food insecure or have families who are financially unable to accommodate the costs of everyday living expenses.

“These are kids who came here with their parents, of no choice of their own. … They believe America is their country. These kids are usually from very poor homes and there is no way they can afford the dream of college,” Public Information Officer Marianne Kligman said.

Keller said the SOURCE has partnered with “the dreamers” at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, as well as the welcome support from various funding opportunities, in order to financially assist these students as they pursue higher education.

Kligman said the Andrew Kroon Scholarship has been awarded to previous college-bound students, who are declared RBR Dreamers. She said the educational opportunity would not have been possible without support from the community.

“These people built the country. Now, they are under attack. These are probably the most motivated Americans we have.” Kligman said.

Kligman said many of the high school’s graduates have gone on to become movement leaders in Washington D.C. The SOURCE tirelessly strives to provide financial aid alternatives to accommodate the individual educational pursuits of the dreamers, she said.

The SOURCE also helps facilitate student-led community service activities, Keller said.

“We recognized that many students here are food insecure. I keep food cards here for students and their students,” Keller said. “We realized we were giving out a number of food cards – families were really in trouble. So, we started our own food pantry. We bought these backpacks and we fill them with food for kids to take home.

“We shut the door with the students inside of the pantry. We tell them to pick whatever they want,” Keller continued. 

The SOURCE also has partnered with local business to provide free services (dentistry, optomologist visits, etc.) to students and their families who are financially insecure, Keller said. 

“Our ultimate goal (at the SOURCE) is to remove all of the obstacles that impede the academic success of young people in the community,” Kligman said.