Measuring Tiger's Den Impact on Graduation Rates

Jersey City Medical Center's comprehensive program offers counseling on issues as diverse as mental health, employment, substance abuse, and workforce skills.

Published May 9, 2023 | 3 min read

The mission

As a large academic teaching hospital serving a big, densely-populated community, Jersey City Medical Center, a facility of RWJBarnabas Health boasts a state-of-the-art emergency department and all the advanced treatment facilities you would expect. But its mission extends well beyond the hospital walls.

“When people from the community arrive at the emergency department, in some ways we feel we haven’t been doing our job,” says Christina Bishop-Feeny, Associate Vice President of the Jersey City Medical Center’s Foundation. “Our job is to keep our community healthy.”

That community includes the 40% of Jersey City residents that identify as Latino, 28% as white, 17% Asian and 10% Black.

The Medical Center’s mission is informed by regular community health needs assessments. In the latest report, common concerns raised included inequities in income and food security, and the risk of neighborhood violence.

The program

Inevitably, growing up in such a challenging environment can be tough. The JCMC program supported by the RBC Foundation USA, the Tiger’s Den, is focused on supporting young people attending Henry Snyder High, just a couple of miles from the medical center. The program is open to all students, and last year engaged around 400 of the school’s 1,000-plus youth enrolled.

Originally created to combat teenage pregnancy, the Tiger’s Den has evolved into a comprehensive program offering counseling on issues as diverse as mental health, employment, substance abuse, and workforce skills. Mentorships allow students to discuss and resolve their problems one-to-one.

Because these services are integrated into the school day, any stigma associated with mental health service is bypassed. “Our mental health workers are able to address issues to heal the whole child – and to offer support to family members too, where needed,” says Christina.

The need for such a service was amplified by a recent multiple murder in the city, with the gunshots audible in the school. A group therapy session afterwards provided support for students and staff.

“There was a lockdown in the city and the entire community was dealing with trauma. It was lucky the Tiger’s Den was there to help the kids to process it,” says Christina.

One obvious positive effect of the program is the 100% graduation rate of students served by Tiger’s Den, compared to an average of 60% among other students at Henry Snyder School.

But academic progress is only part of the program’s mission, says Robert Winston, Vice President of Operations at Jersey City Medical Center. Steps along the way include the improved sleep, concentration and self-care that can result from counseling, as well as awareness of future options beyond the school.

“In order to have mental wellness, you need to establish a base for that first,” says Robert. “Graduation is one objective, but more important is enabling young people to understand that opportunity is available to them.”

To that end, Tiger’s Den runs vocational counselling and visits to local workplaces. Robert is particularly proud that several program participants are joining the JCMC team as interns.

Christina recalled a shopping trip to equip young people with clothes for work: “Showing young people how to present themselves in a professional environment, and to see themselves in a different way, was a wonderful and moving experience.”

Support from the RBC Foundation USA helps to ensure that the Tiger’s Den stretches beyond the school year to the summer, when the lack of structure leaves some students especially vulnerable.

“We’ve been able to bring kids outside the urban environment to an outdoor adventure center, and see things they’d never seen before,” says Robert. “They also went to an amusement park, which many simply wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise – just having fun should be part of everyone’s life.”

Jersey City Medical Center at-a-Glance

Founded: 1882
Based: Jersey City
Cause: Health and wellbeing
RBC Foundation USA partner since 2018

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