NJ4S Bergen, an initiative that was launched this summer to address the mental health crisis in the county, has appointed Le’Var Starr as director and John Paul Simon as assistant director, the organization announced Sept. 20.
Funded by a two-year, $8.2 million state grant and led by Children’s Aid and Family Services, NJ4S Bergen is a coalition of Bergen County mental health providers formed to make prevention and clinical services easily available to more than 133,000 students and their families in all 79 of the county’s school districts.
Bringing more than 15 years’ experience in youth community outreach to the role, Starr joins NJ4S Bergen from Passaic County, where he was director of juvenile administration for more than 14 years. In that role, Starr coordinated county mental health services and programming for juveniles and young adults, according to the hiring announcement.
Starr, whose background includes crisis intervention, youth development and community outreach, earned his undergraduate degree in psychology and his master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology from Hofstra University.
“There is a tremendous need for mental health support and resources for kids today and I’m committed to working with the community, NJ4S employees, and coalition partners to increase access to these vital programs and services in Bergen County,” Starr said in a statement.
Simon, who brings more than 10 years of clinical experience to the role of assistant director, comes to the organization from partner organization CarePlus NJ, where he served in various roles since 2013, most recently as director the organization’s School Based Services Program.
In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression increased globally by 25%, according to the World Health Organization.
A New Jersey-based licensed marriage and family therapist and approved clinical supervisor, Simon earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University and his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy/counseling from Seton Hall University.
“Mental wellness prevention and intervention services are critically important to today’s youth, especially amid an ongoing youth mental health crisis,” said Simon, who added that he’s looking forward to building upon “the available programs and services in the community to ensure all students have access to the support and resources they need to thrive.”
According to Bergen County’s 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment, mental health was described as a “major problem” by 67.2% of respondents, the leading area of concern, topping substance abuse (46.7%); nutrition, physical activity and weight (44.9%); diabetes (39%); COVID-19 (28.6%); and 12 other health-related categories.