Interview: Behavioral Health Task Force Co-Chair Candy Blau

April 2, 2024

In 2022, HFNJ’s board created a Task Force on Behavioral Health to lead the Foundation’s response to the growing crisis in behavioral health. We spoke with Task Force Co-Chair Candy Blau about the recent RFP on strengthening behavioral health supports for Jewish adolescents that stemmed from the Task Force’s work, and its plans for the future.

Candy Blau

Q:  What prompted HFNJ’s Behavioral Health Task Force to issue an RFP on strengthening the behavioral health supports for Jewish adolescents in the MetroWest community?

A: Since its inception HFNJ has been committed to addressing all types of health issues, including mental health. We became acutely aware of the challenges that COVID-19, social isolation, and social media were having on the well-being of our adolescent population. While the Foundation historically funded mental health services throughout our catchment area, the attack on Israel on October 7, 2023 and the overt and historic rise of antisemitism prompted us to make a concerted effort to address this pressing and critical need within the Jewish community.


Q:  How was the community’s response? How many applications did HFNJ receive?

We were thrilled with the robust response. After sharing the RFP with over 130 partner organization in the local Jewish community, from synagogues to schools to social service organizations, HFNJ received eleven proposals. Each proposed unique strategies to support our young people.


Q:  What were the main criteria that trustees were looking for in evaluating the strength of the proposed projects and deciding which of the many applications to fund?

A: The Behavioral Health Task Force recognized the complexity of the problems we wished to address and invited grant submissions that were innovative and collaborative. We recognized the need to bring new approaches into our community and to learn from best practices from other areas to help us address this critical need. We emphasized the need for agencies to work together to share information and resources and encouraged proposals that collaborated with multiple partners and brought innovation to our community.


Q: Which organizations and projects will receive awards this quarter?

I am thrilled to share the winning proposals: Temple B’nai Jeshurun will receive $90,196 to provide Youth Mental Health First Aid to area synagogue school leadership, faculty, and youth; Rabbinical College of America will receive $150,000 to establish an Office of Emotional Wellness; JFS MetroWest will receive $91,713 to hire a mental health professional to build & implement programming for young people; Moving Traditions, an organization newer to working in New Jersey, will receive $85,000 for to develop a student teacher wellness and inclusion training program; and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest Day School Initiative will receive $73,880 for an intensive summer teacher training focused on increasing listening and counseling skills.


Q: Can you share any highlights or anything that particularly excites you about these grantees and projects?

A: What particularly excites me about these grants is that we will hopefully facilitate interagency referral opportunities to provide expanded education and services to the youth in our community. By convening a meeting of all new grantees, we will be able to foster cooperation and share information which will enhance each of the organizations’ efforts.  The wide range of educational opportunities we funded will enable staff to be better able recognize and address the needs of the youth they serve.


Q: What will HFNJ’s Behavioral Health Task Force be focusing on in 2024?

The Task Force will continue to support this special initiative, as we are set to review two more of the RFP responses in the next quarter. We will also continue to support behavioral/mental health grants for our suburban and Newark and urban partners.


Q:  We were all saddened by the loss of our trustee Ellen Wagenberg, who served with you as Co-Chair of the Task Force. Can you say a few words about what it was like working with Ellen on this initiative over the past year?

A: It was a joy and pleasure working with Ellen on this special initiative. She always had good suggestions and enthusiasm for the task at hand. I would also like to take this opportunity to say how pleased I am to welcome Elizabeth Cohen as the new Co-chair and I look forward to working with her.