Working Together Jackson, a coalition of dozens of local organizations, is raising $1 million in the next month to assist needy families within the Jackson Public School District for virtual learning and mental-health support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WTJ gathered together religious, political, financial and nonprofit leaders at city hall Wednesday to launch the initiative. Local radio stations—WRBJ, iHeart Radio/WHLH/WJDX, and WKXI/WJMI/WOAD—also committed to help with the effort.
"(This will) assist needy families within the school districts to ensure that all students are equipped, supported and safe in this new virtual method of operating," Savannah Willis, a Working Together Jackson leader, said at the event. "Since mid-August, the start of virtual learning in JPS, WTJ has been working with partners and school officials to understand unprecedented challenges created by the virtual learning process."
The money raised will help the most-needy 5,000 JPS students, providing traditional school supplies, electronic equipment, support services, hotspot devices and headphones.
Warmline for Mental Health Support
"We are assisting in funding a warmline for parents to contact for support (for) issues facing their children in the COVID-19 crisis," Willis said. "(We want to provide) technical support for parents and students, and 'safe haven' sites for 500 targeted students (to) perform virtual learning during this crisis."
A local organization, Contact The Crisis Line, will manage the warmline, which is 601-713-4358.
"We are excited to be part of the collaborative effort of everyone involved with Working Together Jackson to assist families and students of Jackson who are experiencing distress and need direction to resources," Contact The Crisis Line Executive Director Brenda Patterson said.
She said the mental-health warmline, which went live on noon Wednesday, will provide free, emotional and confidential support and connection to local resources. "The warmline will be available from noon to 8 p.m. seven days a week," Patterson added. "Our trained volunteer crisis line counselors want to be of support and connection. Please do not hesitate to reach out to the Jackson Scholars' mental-health warmline."
Families as Allies Executive Director Joy Hogge said her organization, which helps children with mental illness, is collaborating with Contact the Crisis Line. She urged mental-health organizations and others working with children to connect with Contact the Crisis Line to be part of the resources families can receive.
"I am particularly excited about the mental-health warmline," she said. "It's a safe place to call, and they can help you find the right kind of help, and we are working with them every step of the way."
"We know at our organization how challenging it can be in the best of times for your children to be dealing with mental-health challenges, let alone during COVID," she said to parents. "This warmline is meant for you."
‘A Very Challenging Year’
At the event, Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba underscored the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the education of less-privileged Jacksonians.
"We know that 2020 has been a very unique year, a very challenging year, so we are trying to operate an economy, we are trying to conduct business and education in the presence of COVID-19," he said. "What we have to understand is that many of the regulations that we are doing in the name of safety still require some level of privilege that allows someone to social distance. People have to have the privilege to have virtual education, and the reality is that not all of our children are situated in that capacity."
Hinds County District 2 Supervisor David Archie encouraged everyone to join in the fundraising effort by contributing any amount they can afford.
"If you don't have $100 to give, give $50, if you don't have $50 to give, give $20, if you don't have $20 to give, give $1," he said. "All of us can provide at least one dollar, and so we say congratulations to all of those that are participating to make absolutely sure that those children that are left out and locked out have an opportunity to be safe and learning as well."
Mississippi State Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, promised to urge state agencies to direct available resources to the city.
"We are going to reach out to the state agencies that are supposed to be taking care of these problems," he said. " We are going to reach out to the state Department of Mental Health, the state Department of Human Services, the state Department of Education. And whatever resources are available for our students and our kids and their families here in the capital city, we are going to go after them, and we are going to get them."
‘Our Children—The Very Best Investment’
New Horizon Church International Bishop Ronnie Crudup Sr., a member of Working Together Jackson, lamented that thousands of students in JPS are at risk of falling behind in their education.
"This is for our children. Our children are the very best investment that we have, and if we don't invest, we complain about crime, and all this other stuff; if we don't invest in our children, then you are asking for trouble," he said. "So let's invest the money. Everybody in Jackson (can contribute) and folks out of Jackson."
The donations' account is WTJ/Safe Haven Campaign at Hope Credit Union, 4 Old River Place, Suite A Jackson, Miss., 39202. The funds are tax-deductible. WJT accepts electronic donations to the project via cashforconnections.org.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]ss.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.