FITCHBURG — United Way of North Central Massachusetts recently awarded $90,000 in grants to eight local agencies for youth mental and behavioral health initiatives. The grants are part of a new area of work that seeks to address challenges faced by young people arising from increased isolation during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
One pilot program funded from the grants is Males Advocating Change (MAC), a program that will engage middle school, high school and college-aged men to address male violence, particularly sexual and dating violence against women, based out of Pathways for Change, Inc, of Worcester.
“The role of MAC is to raise awareness of the myths about masculinity and play a part in building and expanding young males’ understanding of healthy, non-violent masculinity,” said Kim Dawkins, CEO at Pathways for Change. “These funds will provide critical resources needed to continue our work to engage young males and train them to be leaders in our effort to end sexual violence in North Central Massachusetts.”
The grants from the United Way of North Central Massachusetts (UWNCM) will support a variety of programs serving diverse populations from different perspectives, from providing free behavioral health services for uninsured marginalized youth, to enabling girls to discover art and nature as tools for mental well-being, and using dance movement therapy to support youth who identify as Latino, Black, and Indigenous.
“Youth mental and behavioral health problems are reaching crisis levels in our region. With our new grant program, UWNCM is dipping our toes in the water of a larger issue and learning as we go. We are excited to support a wide variety of initiatives that will use creative methods to support our youth,” said Judy Tomlinson, Director of Community Impact at UWNCM.
The need for increased youth mental and behavioral health services was first identified when UWNCM hosted a community roundtable on the topic in December of 2022. Participants, including representatives from local agencies and the health field, noted that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people have become isolated and unprepared for healthy social relationships.
The grant program is a new initiative for UWNCM that seeks to begin identifying the most effective ways of delivering services to young people who are struggling with mental and behavioral health. Grants will run through June 30, 2024, and results will be used to create targeted programs going forward.
The agencies receiving the grants include the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg/Leominster, the Boys & Girls Club of Lunenburg, the Girl Scouts of Central & Western Mass, LUK Crisis Center, the Montachusett Community Branch YMCA, the Mount Wachusett Community Foundation, Pathways for Change, and the Spanish American Center.
The United Way of North Central Massachusetts serves the communities of Ashburnham, Ashby, Athol, Ayer, Devens, Fitchburg, Gardner, Groton, Harvard, Hubbardston, Leominster, Littleton, Pepperell, Lunenburg, Petersham, Phillipston, Royalston, Shirley, Templeton, Townsend, Westminster and Winchendon.
(COURTESY UNITED WAY OF NORTH CENTRAL MASSACHUSETTS)